Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Letter to M

Hi Friends. In the comments on last week's Ensign post a commenter named "M" said that she/he was formerly LDS and had depression and that she/he did not find relief from her/his symptoms until she/he left the Church (sorry for all the she/he stuff. M's profile is private). "M" then went on to say that, "It's unfortunate that you are unable to see that biggest reason for your depression is your inability to live the teachings of your church. But don't feel bad, nobody can. You will never be a good enough wife or mother as long as you are LDS." That's a loaded comment and a common misconception, so I wanted to share my feelings in regards to what "M" said.

Dear M,

Thank you for stopping by my blog and taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I appreciate your experience and that you were courteous in your comment. I hope you will understand that, even though I disagree with you, I am trying to be courteous as well. Please understand that I am not trying to change your experience or disrespect you; your experience is yours and you have made the choice that you feel is best for you. This letter is just me explaining and clarifying my own experiences.

To be honest, after the birth of my oldest, when I was in the throes of untreated postpartum depression (some of the scariest moments of my life), I think I would have agreed with you. Going to Church was the hardest thing for me. I hated seeing all those other people who had it so together and seemed so perfect. Some strange comments and insensitive interactions with people made me feel like some of the members thought they were better than me. Church did feel like one long fashion show with all the models trying to one-up each other with their cars and the fancy clothes on their kids and how much they scrapbooked and who knew the scriptures the best. I would skip class and wander the halls thinking, "Why the hell am I here?" I wasn't really sure. Looking back, I'm not sure why I kept going. Probably because it was easier than not going and explaining to my family how I felt.

Well, that and I still kind of believed it. While not every area of my testimony was solid, I still knew that Christ had atoned for me and my sins and troubles. I still knew that I was a child of God, even though I was pretty angry at Him. And I still hoped to have an eternal family. Even though becoming a mother had been a miserable experience for me I hoped that somehow God could find a way to make us right. I also thought about my covenants and what it meant to break them. I wasn't ready to do that yet.

Eventually I did get treatment for my PPD and I got my head above water. I was still really bitter about some of the other ward members and I was still angry at God about a number of things but I was able to see how my Church membership benefited me and my family. One of the chief benefits from my membership at that time was my calling.

When my oldest was around a year old I got called into the Primary presidency and got to work with some truly spectacular people. The woman who was president over me was a humble, efficient, Christ-like person and I learned a lot from her example. She had a loving and peaceful spirit and she trusted me enough to let me make mistakes and learn from them. I benefited a lot from my association with her. Her attitude about mistakes and how we all learn was unique in my Church experience up to that point. Before then callings were always about impressing people and showing off your own abilities--pretty prideful stuff. Working with this woman was about leaning on Christ and trying to share His love with others. I hope if I am ever in a leadership position I will be able to recreate that atmosphere.

The other thing that was really helpful about serving in Primary was the focus on core doctrines. There wasn't a single Sunday where we "forgot" to include Christ in our lessons. Heavenly Father and his love for ALL His children was central to everything we did. We never strayed into so-called "deep doctrines". We stuck to the basics and the Spirit flourished--at least that's how it felt to me. I was grateful for the refresher course in core doctrines that Primary was. It changed my perspective and approach to the Church. I think that's one reason why I still love Primary and always say yes when someone asks me to substitute.

Another thing that changed during that time was my involvement in the arts. I started writing every day when my oldest was about ten months old and it brought a lot of relief and order to my troubled mind. Writing became an opportunity to sort through myself and experiences and decide how I really felt about them--even when I was writing fiction. It calmed me. Eventually, this led to more involvement in the LDS arts community where I discovered how varied the LDS experience really is. Sometimes in our wards we look around and think that everyone is the same and that we have to conform to fit in. But that isn't true. Lurking, and eventually becoming a contributor at A Motley Vision, opened my eyes to how differently LDS people could think and feel and still be faithful.

Hanging out at Blog Segullah also helped me realize that being a mother is a multi-faceted experience. It isn't sunflowers and roses all the time for anyone. I wasn't failing; I was normal. Hearing their stories was/is good for me because it highlights the process of becoming a Latter-day Saint. I think part of my problem with the Church before was that I thought I had to be everything to everyone all the time and hearing the struggles and victories over at Segullah helped me understand how wrong that idea was. So did M. Russel Ballard's talk "Daughters of God".

There are still things that are hard for me about Church. But another important realization I've come to is that I can take it slow. I don't have to do it all or be it all right now. When my depression was untreated I think I spent a lot of time comparing myself to others and thinking that they were better than me. They were perfect and I was not and it hurt a lot to think that I could be trying so hard and be failing so tremendously. But I often remembered a quotation from Jeffrey R. Holland. He said,
"I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, 'robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb'"
('The Other Prodigal", Liahona July 2002).

Also, I think that there were a lot of principles I misunderstood. Things like the role of self-reliance in spirituality, perfection and eternal progress, grace and works (for more on this idea see Katie's blog. She's like the All Grace and Works All the Time channel. Very insightful!). I'm sure there are more. Increasing gospel understanding through service in Primary and through my own efforts really helped. Us Latter-day Saints are good-hearted people, but sometimes when we give and/or listen to talks or lessons we miss. It helped to find truly authoritative sources and meditate on those.

On rough days, I still struggle. There are times that I hate being at Church. At time like that I try to remind myself that Church is about recommitting myself to Christ. It is about me reaching out to catch the hand my Savior is stretching out. When I remember that it isn't so hard.

Good luck, M. I hope you'll still stop by and that we can all work together to help each other through our darkest days!

30 comments:

Doc said...

Your response is more measured and kinder than mine would have been.

My heart bleeds for those who have suffered from the stigma associated with depression, but blame and anger truthfully can only perpetuate the problem, which is not in the gospel itself, but human nature.

Breakdown said...

I have quite the problem with comparing myself to others, while at church or otherwise. There is a scripture that I always think of whenever I think that I'm not worthy.

Mark 2:17 "...They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick..."

I go to church to be a better person. There are going to be people that are better off than I am, but God isn't going to hold up Peter Priesthood as the ruler. He's going to see that I did the best with what I had.

Seth R. said...

Worst thing about comparisons is that frankly, we have no clue what the other people in the ward are going through. Every active Mormon probably knows some super-family or super-couple who are just so spiritual, so successful, such good parents/spouses, and so nice, etc. etc.

But really, we don't know what's going on in their lives. We don't know what sins they struggle with.

I've even encountered General Authorities in moments that, frankly weren't all that flattering. I've seen them irritable and crabby before. Some of them even share their less than shining moments in General Conference (which, of course, half the listeners ignore).

No one is immune to this status called "life."

M said...

I would like to thank you for your kindly worded reply to my comments. I am sorry for the gender ambiguity of my last post. It was not intentional. I guess I should have signed my post with my name. For the record, I am a 45 year old man who lives in West Jordan, Utah. I am married and have two boys ages 13 and 17.

Depression is an insidious illness. It takes away all the joy in life and makes every task seem so overwhelmingly difficult. I applaud your efforts to deal with your depression and wish you every success.

One of the biggest contributing factors for depression is stress. Stress comes to us in many forms. It can come from work, family, children, finances, and even church. I would like to address church related stress for a minute. I realize that your blog is about depression and I do not want to try to change that. For that reason, this will be the last time I post comments concerning the LDS church to your blog.

The LDS church teaches that “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25 verse 23) The LDS church tells you to read the scriptures; pray; attend meetings; carry out callings; pay tithing; go to the temple; wear garments; follow the word of wisdom; do genealogy; and the list goes on and on and on. There isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things you’re supposed to be doing without having to take care of 3 kids and a husband and a household and deal with your depression. My question to you is how much do you need to do to be saved? And how much stress is added to you by doing all those things that you need to do to be saved?

You seem to have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ. Why not join a Christian church that teaches that you are saved by Grace ALONE. That’s all, faith in Jesus Christ period. There is a Church of Christ not too far from my home which I have attended from time to time and I can tell you that you will not find people who love Jesus more anywhere. Their worship of the Savior is both simple and pure and they love the Savior with all their might.

You may also want to consider, as you ponder whether or not to stay in the church (if you even think about that these days), your testimony of Joseph Smith. It is not until you delve into the "deep doctrines" that you come to understand who Joseph Smith really was. You may want to consider standing in fast and testimony meeting every month for the next year and bearing your testimony of Joseph Smith. Could you do it? If not, you may want to ask yourself why you are in the LDS church.

On the other hand, I understand if you hesitate to leave the LDS church. Many people don’t believe all of the doctrine of the LDS church and yet they stay because of social or family or work considerations. If it were not for the fact that we so totally did not agree with the doctrines that were perpetrated by Joseph Smith – polygamy; that God used to be a man and that we ourselves would become gods; the need for works over grace -- we might have stayed. We just found the stress between what we disagreed with --as well as what the LDS church "officially taught" -- and what we came to understand about Christ to be unbearable. We have been much happier since we have focused on a Christ-only church.

Leaving the LDS church was probably the most difficult thing my wife and I have ever done. It’s hard to give up the sense of community; the thought that you have all the spiritual answers; and the feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself. For me it came down to my sense of integrity would not let me remain a member of something I didn’t believe in. We have both been a lot happier out of the church than we ever thought we could be, and have found a sense of freedom and peace that, despite the above-mentioned perks, has far surpassed anything that we knew as Mormons. I also know that if I had had to deal with the stress of being LDS and not believing the doctrine, I would be in worse physical shape than I am now.

My heart goes out to you with regard to your depression. I know that you are trying to cope with it as best you can. Only you can find the answers for yourself, and I wish you peace and joy as you live your journey. One day at a time, one step at a time, we can all find happiness along the way. You have three very beautiful children. I hope that you are able to enjoy every moment with them. They grow up so fast.

Kelly said...

I can understand only too well the stress that M is discussing, and I can only imagine how much more difficult that becomes when depression and anxiety are part of the equation. Even without depression, that stress can be overwhelming. So I understand when he says his family is much happier in another church that doesn't demand so much "work" or "works" from you.

Why I personally cannot leave the church is simply that I love it. I love that the church teaches not to rely on anybody else's testimony, but to pray and learn for yourself what is true and what is not. M has every right to seek that answer for himself, and he has acted in a way that brings him peace, and has met others with a deep love for the Savior. For that I congratulate him. But I would urge him to exercise caution in encouraging others to leave.

Perhaps he cannot bear testimony of Joseph Smith, but I can. Perhaps he cannot bear testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon, but I can. Perhaps he cannot bear testimony that our prophet today is the only one on the face of the earth authorized to speak on behalf of the Lord, but I know this is true. I'm not just saying this because it is what Mormons are taught to say. I know without doubt or hesitation, based on my own seeking and searching. I also know that this is the only church authorized to perform the saving ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the holy ghost, as well as the higher ordinances found only in the holy temples. I could not for a minute consider leaving all of this for another church, no matter how truly humble and Christ-loving the members are.

Because if I left, then I would truly be unhappy, instead of just a little busy.

Seth R. said...

M,

I think that Mormons often misread 2 Nephi 25:23.

They read it as a call to do everything that is humanly possible for you to do. Of course we know that no flawed human being ever really does "all they can do." So what is going on here?

First off, I think that the wording of the verse is grammatically awkward and it's possible that it was simply rendered incorrectly (or merely obscured in meaning) in translation.

A more grammatically correct reading of the verse would be "after all we can do, it is by grace we are saved." Mormon scholar Robert Millet has proposed exactly this reading of the verse.

You also have to read this passage in light of other Book of Mormon passages.

First, I'd recommend reading the verse in light of 2 Nephi 2:3-9 - where Lehi is saying farewell to his family and gives one of the Book of Mormon's keynote addresses on the Atonement. Lehi makes it clear that "salvation is free" on condition of belief in Christ.

Also look at the language of 2 Nephi 10:24:

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved."

Another fairly clear endorsement of grace as the key to salvation.

And then King Benjamin's speech in Mosiah 3:17:

"And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent."

In fact, I'd recommend most of King Benjamin's speech on this subject. Especially Mosiah 2:17-25 (I've never seen a clearer statement that it is only by grace that any are saved - not even in the Bible!). There's also a portion of that Mormons typically read as a laundry list of stuff you are supposed to be doing in Mosiah 4:12-16. This is wrong.

Note the key word in verse 12 - "if."

If what?

If you go through the conversion process to Christ that Benjamin has been talking about. IF you do that, THEN all those good works flow forth as a result.

Final scripture for you - Alma 24:11-12:

"And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren."

This is where the group of Lamanites accept the Gospel and bury their weapons.

Did you catch the key phrase in verse 11?

"all we can do"

What was "all" they "could do?"

To repent.

Period.

Hope you'll take another look at these verses and reconsider what the Book of Mormon is asking you to do.

Best.

Laura said...

M--Thanks so much for commenting again! You really do have a good spirit about you.

I really am considering your challenge of bearing testimony of Joseph Smith every Fast Sunday for the next year. Besides worrying about monopolizing the podium, I wonder what it would be like. How would it change me?

Thanks for compliment my kids! I've worked a lot in therapy to learn to enjoy them. I think I had a lot of negative thought/ neuron pathways associated with them because of the PPD (and the post-traumatic stress disorder after the births of #1 and #3).

The stress point you bring up is a good one and I think I want to address it fully in a later post. I guess the short version would be that because of the anxiety I have with my depression pretty much anything stresses me out so learning to set limits--with Church and family and writing and exercising and everything--has been big for me. I still work on that.

Again, thanks so much for the good conversation!

Doc said...

The real problem with perspectives isn't just that it harms Mormons, which I'll gladly acknowledge it does, It is that it also harms Evangelical Christians.

If I am a born again Christian attending M's church and I suffer a Major Depressive episode, does it mean I wasn't
really saved? Does it mean that its God's will for me to suffer? Does it mean I don't have faith? Does it mean Christianity is a false religion and what I really need to Buddhist meditation and learning to live in the present?

I truly believe that the spiritual path to healing in depression is a critical part of getting better. I also believe that spiritual path is the one that M is describing.

However, as evidenced by Seth R., that path can be found both inside and outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is more a matter of a maturing understanding of our relationship with God. I believe it can be given to people of all faiths because it is a gift from God to all his children.

Having said all this, I refuse to believe that simply having depression or anxiety is proof of some kind of shortfall in faith or spirituality. The truth is much more complicated than that.

Biology does play a role here. Experience does play a role here. The way we think does play a role here. In order to really be healed often means taking all these things, mind, body and soul, into account.

It is also critical that we learn to stop blaming and stigmatizing those with the problem. We have to stop blaming this this person, that religion, this profession, that family, this social group. When we attack others this way we will only drive the problem underground where it festers and thrives on the guilt you have so handily provided it.

Coffinberry said...

I don't have much to add to the discussion, except to say, maybe, been-there-done-that. Thank you all for sharing your perspectives. I guess there's a reason that the hymn-phrase "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see" is laden with meaning for me.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Hey Laura, great discussion you have going on here. I loved your post and really appreciated you mentioning how widely varied the Mormon experience is. We are far more diverse than we seem on the surface. If only we could begin to break through the pretenses and say these things out loud every once in a while--IN CHURCH, even! ;)

I can really relate to M's story--and even passing comments like Breakdown feeling unworthy, or Kelly talking about the stress she sometimes feels at church.

I've felt the same things, and it's painful.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that nothing saddens (or frustrates) me more than hearing those kinds of stories and comments. I'm sure my sensitivity arises from years of anxiety exacerbated by what I perceived was a demand for perfection, but I wonder: WHAT IS IT about our upbringing, doctrine, or culture that makes people feel like they have to pretend a perfection that does not exit?

Kelly said...

I don't know that it's pretending perfection. I believe there is not a soul in the church that truly believes they are perfect. What I do see happening, though, is something like this:

Laura is my friend at church (if I may use her as an example). Here is what I know about Laura -- that she is earnestly trying to live the gospel, that she prays every day, that she reads her scriptures, and that she has certain talents that very obviously shine in her as she fulfills her callings and assignments in church. As her friend, I believe she is capable of rising to any challenge, and any calling -- especially because I know this is the Lord's church and He will direct her efforts when she asks for His help (which I know she does). I have a great deal of love and admiration for Laura.

But this can be a double-edged sword, because my expectations of Laura are very high -- unfairly high -- precisely because I believe in her, trust her, and admire her so much. And because she is not perfect, occasionally she will say or do something I don't like, or that falls short of my expectation. Realistically,I am not likely to go complaining about her to people, but Laura is likely fully aware that she has somehow let me down. She has certainly let herself down. And she really wants me to continue to think as highly of her as I always have. So the standard of perfection is set...

Now, I don't believe the Lord actually expects perfection from us. But because we believe this is His church, and that He works through us, we often expect miracles from one another. And sometimes those miracles do happen. So then we just continue to expect them from one another -- if not from ourselves.

If you live in my ward (and so very many others like it), I think you will find a group of men and women who are truly in awe of one another, and rightfully so, I might add. We genuinely like one another, we praise one another's strengths, we forgive one another's weaknesses, we rely on one another in times of need and stress. But because we love one another so much, we don't want to let anybody down. So even if something I do is simply adequate rather than amazing, I go home berating myself, even though nobody else thinks worse of me.

I believe the only person expecting perfection of me is me.

Coffinberry said...

Well said, Kelly.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Kelly,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I'm trying to wrap my mind around what you said, because I've never considered this question in this light.

To clarify, you're saying that you believe the standard we set for each other is so high because we love one another and therefore expect much from each other (sort of along the same lines as "where much is given, much is required")? And that therefore, when we fall short of that high standard, we feel bad because we've let everyone down?

I just want to make sure I've understood your point...

Elizabeth-W said...

I wonder if M has ever lived outside of Utah. Mormons have no corner on the market in the 'falling short' department. I was just talking to a Catholic person the other day who was saying stuff I swear I think only Mormons say. I don't think leaving would cure/fix/reduce anyone's depression if they were sincerely living their faith (whatever brand), or not.

I hope I can express this well. My daughter just changed schools, to a more challenging program. In this change, she has had to learn a different way to do math--instead of primarily memorization (this is 3rd grade) it's all deeper concepts which prepare you better for algebra.
It's very frustrating for her, and for me watching her struggle with 'why something is that way' rather just memorizing the answer. But, I know that her understanding has increased, and that she is more aware than she was before.

Leaving the church because it's too hard doesn't solve much (speaking from personal experience). You can't get that doctrine out of you once you've been exposed.

Why is it so hard for former members to just simply walk away? It would be like my 3rd grader going back to her old school and saying 'ok, now forget all the complex stuff you know, and just do your times tables as fast as you can-that's the standard now.' Sure, she can do it, but she still knows the other stuff.
There's something compelling, I think, about LDS doctrine that keeps people coming back in one way or another.

Kelly said...

Katie, I don't know if you have children, but let me try to clarify what I was meaning, if possible. I love my children -- they are smart and amazing. I love my husband -- he is my greatest blessing. Because I love them so much, I want to do absolutely everything I possibly can to be a good wife and mother to them. So my expectations of myself are very very high -- too high. I believe my children and husband deserve a wife who is kind all the time, which I am not. I believe my family deserves to live in a clean house all the time, but alas it is not. I am not a terrible wife and mother; on the contrary, I believe I am doing very well. But I am falling short of my ideal. Still, that doesn't keep my from trying to be better, and occasionally feeling bad that I'm not as good as I wish.

I feel that way in my ward -- which really is a second family to me. I love them so much, and I want to do all I can to serve and help them. I am the Primary chorister, so I believe the children there deserve a chorister who is fun and smiles all the time, which sometimes I don't accomplish to my satisfaction. I am also a fairly decent pianist, so I think whenever I am asked to perform in church it should be beautiful and the notes I play should be (dare I say the word?) PERFECT. Sometimes I am totally capable of this. But sometimes I am not, and that's when I go home and feel bad. Even in my strengths I am not perfect. I feel my ward family (and my real family) deserve better from me.

Funny thing is, though, that the Lord isn't expecting perfection of me. He accepts whatever I am willing to give. Or as was once stated, "All our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention." (I don't know who said this.) So I give what I can give, the Lord treasures my effort (hangs my crayon drawing on the fridge) then somehow makes up the difference -- the children in Primary learn the songs and love them, in spite of my feeble efforts. The Spirit is felt when I play the piano, imperfect though it may be.

And then...people go home feeling bad about themselves because Kelly just did an amazing job at something they could never do (as if I could without the Lord's help). Or, they begin to expect these miracles from me no matter what the calling, because we all perform miracles in our church work. And sometimes we expect these miracles from the ones me admire, but cringe when the same is expected of us.

But truthfully, we are just rooting for one another, hoping we can all excel, hoping we can all come to know Christ, and looking forward to (hopefully) celestial glory with one another.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Kelly, thanks for the clarification. I think I understand a bit better now what you were saying. And I think you are right that this contributes to the pressure we Mormons feel to perform at high levels. I hadn't considered it in this light before, but I think there's a lot of validity in what you've said. I also appreciate the candor and elegance with which you've spoken.

I do have some concerns about the assumptions behind a couple of things you've said. I hope and pray you'll realize I'm not trying to nitpick, but am interested in continuing the discussion and exploring certain distinctions that I've found can make things easier (after all, Christ told us that His yoke was easy, and His burden light).

I think one of the most damaging--and incorrect--lessons we learn in church is this: "Jesus makes up the difference between what I can give and what I need."

It is subtle, but when we say this, we are implying there are portions we can do on our own, without Him.

I think it is more correct to say: "When I accept Jesus into my heart through the ordinances and covenants of the gospel, *He* gives me everything I need."

When we approach it the other way around, all of a sudden we are saying there are aspects of our life--however minor they may be-- where we don't need Christ. There are times when our works *are* good enough. There are moments when we can get by without you, God, thank you very much. Because we do what we can on our own, and *He makes up the difference.* It's so subtle, but it's there!

When we place high expectations on ourselves to perform, I think we are in a small way denying the atonement in our lives. Because we're bypassing Him, telling Him *we* should be able to do it.

Should not our expectations be in Christ instead?

For an everyday member of the Church, trying to do even a small part of it alone can be uncomfortable and discouraging. For someone struggling with more severe mental illness, as we've seen with M's story and others like him (including my own battle with depression, anxiety, and perfectionism), they can be debilitating and completely rob us of our faith.

I am very interested to hear your feedback on what I've shared today. I have enjoyed the dialogue thus far...

Have a wonderful day,
Katie :)

Kelly said...

Katie,
You're right, there is that tendency to rely on ourselves, especially when stated the way I did. I guess the assumption I make, and probably shouldn't, is that people ask the Lord for help before doing the things they do. One of my favorite scriptures (I call it the musician's scripture, although it applies to more than music) is 2 Ne. 32:9 "...ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul."

I know this scripture works, because praying before I perform on the piano or organ in church really does have an impact on how things go. When what I do is offered up as a gift unto the Lord, and when what I do is designed to bear testimony of the Lord rather than draw attention to myself, then things go much better. That is when the miracles happen that I keep talking about -- when someone does something above and beyond that really is amazing.

The challenge comes when those amazing things become the expectation. Then, in our preparation, we begin to brainstorm how what we are doing can be amazing, rather than merely adequate to the needs of the day. And that's precisely when, I believe, we start to center on ourselves again instead of on the Lord -- at least in our church service.

So, you're right, there is a danger to thinking we have to do it all ourselves. I do,however, believe that I do have to put quite a bit of my own effort into things. My husband and I joke about a youth talk given once on Mother's Day where the youth didn't prepare any remarks because he figured, "How hard can it be to talk about my mom?" After which he babbled for a couple of minutes, said nothing interesting, and sat down. Preparation and effort (with the guidance of the Spirit -- having prayed to ask for the Lord's help, or grace if you will) are essential. It is when you begin to put forth the hard work and effort that the inspiration comes.

Or, as the saying goes (I'm curious what you think of this saying), "Pray as if everything depends on God, and then work as if everything depends on you."

Personally, I think the Lord still expects me to give my very best effort. He doesn't have to do everything for me, so long as the Spirit gives my efforts His stamp of approval, so to speak.

You mentioned earlier the scripture, "For of him unto whom much is given, much is required..." D&c 82:3 -- which really has to do with being held to a higher standard of righteousness when you have been given greater gospel light and knowledge. What I do know is that by God's grace, I somehow was permitted to grow up with a knowledge of the gospel my whole life. Also, through my personal efforts of seeking to know Jesus better, the Lord has responded and given me a testimony of the truth of what I have learned. I firmly believe I will be held responsible for that knowledge -- that I am expected to bear witness of the truth, that I am expected to keep all of the commandments that I have made covenants to keep. And when I falter, I know the Lord will be forgiving, so long as I pick myself back up and keep trying. What I believe He won't forgive is if I give up trying altogether.

I think the great heresy among most Christian churches is that we can sin all we like and stop trying to be good, and Christ will still let us live in the Celestial Kingdom. Certainly, the price has been paid for all, and all will achieve some degree of glory -- so in that sense they are right. But there are differing degrees of righteousness and differing degrees of glory, and my efforts do make a difference.

Well, anyhow, those are my thoughts. Sorry my replies are so wordy and long. I'm not so good at short comments/answers.

Kelly said...

Oh, one more point I want to clarify. In saying this, I don't want anyone to think I believe not doing the very very very best ever in your church calling is somehow a sin. That I can't practice the organ for an hour a day everyday before I play in church is not a sin. But not practicing at all is unwise, as my mistakes will then detract from the Spirit of the meeting.

Not going to the temple once a month is not a sin. Not going at all ever in your whole life will in reality limit your eternal progress. All of our "works" are worth doing well, but perhaps not to the insane level of near-perfection we sometimes think we need to give.

Just to draw a distinction that while greater righteousness is required, ever greater efforts in church service is not. They are not the same thing. My church service is a gift I give to God because I love Him, I want to serve His children, and He has asked for this service through His appointed priesthood leaders. But I become a problem if I completely don't do the service at all and give extra burden to others who have to pick up the slack for me.

OK -- I'm starting to ramble again.
Just some thoughts!

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Kelly,

Great points. I especially like what you said about consecrating your performance to the Lord. I am not good at this myself, but have often pondered that this is really the key to living closer to the Spirit and truly surrendering to Christ.

I also agree that our effort is required. For example, it's completely disingenuous to ask God to help you overcome an alcohol addiction while hanging out every night at a bar--and then wondering why God doesn't take your addiction away.

The only stipulation or caveat I would add is that we should remember at all times that the work we do is IN PARTNERSHIP with Christ. Not on our own, lest any man should boast (to paraphrase the scripture).

We should remember, too, that we're gonna screw up. Not that we're happy when we do, but Christ still accepts us as His partner, so we don't need to wallow in it or beat ourselves up over it. Just get up again and turn back to Him, knowing His grace is sufficient for us, bumps, bruises, scars, and all.

Finally, to answer your question, I don't much care for the saying, "Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on you." I understand the sentiment, that life takes work--but I think it is misleading. I know that at the height of my perfectionism, I interpreted that quote to mean that I had to work as hard as humanly possible--harder, even--because everything *did* depend on me, and when I had done a good enough job on the power of my own sheer grit and determination, then and only then God would step in and "make up the difference."

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Kelly, you say, "I firmly believe I will be held responsible for that knowledge -- that I am expected to bear witness of the truth, that I am expected to keep all of the commandments that I have made covenants to keep."

I agree that these things are important. My question for you is, do you believe our salvation is dependent upon the completion of these things? In other words, are we in danger of losing our salvation if we DON'T do them?

Kelly said...

Let me ask you a question:
Joseph Smith prayed, saw the Father and Son, and was given a great work to do. He translated the Book of Mormon, he preached the truths of the gospel, and sealed his testimony with his blood. All of his life's work was doing what the Lord asked of him -- most of which was not easy and would have been downright depressing if I had to go through it.
Would he have been in danger of losing his salvation if he DIDN'T do all of this?
How would his failure to do this have impacted you?


Regarding keeping the commandments, if I don't keep them, then yes, I am in danger of losing my salvation -- unless I repent, that is. And repentance is more than saying I believe in Christ. It is saying I believe Christ's teachings will bring me happiness, ignoring them will bring me unhappiness, and as such my obedience is an act of faith in Christ's atonement. And when I fail I can pick myself up, dust myself off, pray for forgiveness and try again. But I don't give up on keeping the commandments to the best of my ability. My faith in Christ's atonement is a principle of action -- if I choose to follow Christ then I act differently than I otherwise would.

Here's how I see the atonement working in my life: In the premortal existence I was permitted a choice (an action, if you will) to exercise faith in Christ. The plan was that he would come to earth and suffer the pains of all men, suffer for our sins, etc. Did we believe he was really capable of that? You and I made a choice, took action, probably even bore witness to one another that we believe Christ was capable of doing it. Others took action in another way. They were not permitted to come to earth and receive a body and progress spiritually. Those who exercised faith in Christ were. So I am on earth because I exercised faith in Christ.

The gospel was restored because Christ gave people the truth and expected them to do something about it. Christ worked miracles in my grandparents' lives when they (through his grace) were permitted to hear the gospel, and felt the Spirit confirm its truth to their souls. Their lives changed -- they stopped smoking, drinking coffee, etc. They lived happier lives and had an outpouring of blessings as a result of changes they made, actions they took, once they knew the truth. I was blessed, through Christ's grace, to be born into this family where I knew and lived the gospel from an early age -- where I felt the Spirit when my family prayed, where I learned the gospel from the mouths of my parents and had the Spirit witness to me that it was true.

I attended church in a building erected by the hands of the ward members themselves -- this work was required of them through the leadership of the priesthood set up and authorized by Christ himself, who is the head of this church. I attended college at a church-owned school -- erected by priesthood leaders of Christ's church, using the sacred tithing funds of the members (another work required at the hands of the saints).

I owe all I know, all I have, and all I am to Christ and His gospel, so I will do whatever He asks me to do. But the work is not always easy.

I think of my pioneer ancestors -- those who saw how much people suffered for joining the church, in the days of mobs, where women and children were raped and killed, homes were plundered, where families would disown children who joined. My ancestors saw all this suffering and thought, "Hey, I want to join this church!" Really? They did it because it was true, and they could no more deny it than Joseph could deny what he saw and knew.
And they all suffered for it.

So I will bear witness of Christ with every calling I receive, with every choice I make in life, and yes in my actions. And, to be honest, I don't worry that my imperfections and shortcomings are somehow preventing my salvation. Christ has me covered. He's been walking with me and blessing me my whole life. Just so long as I don't walk away from him. And if I suffer, so be it. Then I am learning to be more like him.

As Elder Wirthlin taught us, "Come what may, and love it."

Kelly said...

Sorry if I seem to be getting so preachy. Thanks for the conversation Katie. You have some excellent perspective and insights. I hope my long-winded answers aren't in any way offending or bothering you. I can only tell it like I see it, which is not everybody's experience, I know.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Kelly,

No worries. I don't feel preached to. (And even if I did, I need a good preachin' to every now and then.) :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

In response to your question regarding whether or not Joseph Smith was in danger of losing his salvation if he didn't do all he did...

That's a very difficult question. Certainly his failure to do all he did would have impacted both me and the world in terms of delaying the restoration of the gospel (I say delaying, because I believe God would have restored it through someone else, in that case).

But would he have been in danger of losing his salvation?

I guess I'd leave that up to God. If Joseph's heart was turned to Christ, I imagine he would have been awarded the same chance to accept the fullness of the gospel in the next life that everyone else has.

You see, as often happens in grace/works conversation, I think there's some level of speaking past one another. I believe that the works of the gospel--including the good works of service and sacrifice--are incredibly important. I think the impetus to live a good, clean life according to the commandments of God is inspired of God, and I think a person who is headed for the Celestial Kingdom will naturally exhibit good works--even if it requires great and terrible personal sacrifice.

The difference, or the *distinction,* that I would make is simply that the works themselves are powerless to save us. It is Christ who saves us, and our good works are a manifestation of His power in our lives, a signal that we are committed to Him and that we love Him.

As you put it so elegantly, I owe all I know, all I have, and all I am to Christ and His gospel, so I will do whatever He asks me to do. But the work is not always easy.

I have a couple more thoughts, but first want to make sure we are operating from the same definitions. How do you define "repentance" and "falling away"?

Kelly said...

Good questions. How I define repentance: It is a process,usually first realizing and acknowledging that I have sinned (usually this involves hurting another person in some way -- as an aside, I believe almost all of the commandments are designed to keep us from hurting one another as we exercise our agency). I tend to feel bad, so I apologize to that person, maybe do something nice for them to show I really do care about them. I pray to Heavenly Father to acknowledge what I did wrong, and ask for forgiveness, ask that Christ's atonement can cleanse my soul and help me be worthy before Him. I ask for help to do better in the future. Usually somewhere in the middle of this I start to feel the spirit, feel peace, feel the Lord's love -- it's hard to describe. But then the next Sunday as I take the sacrament and renew that covenant, I can walk away feeling clean.

I know there are lots of people that beat themselves up and can't let go of the fact that they aren't perfect. I sometimes have those moments, but I am also pretty good at forgiving myself. Fundamentally, I like myself. I'm sure it's much harder for people with lots of negative self-speak going on in their heads.

OK, so that's a long definition of repentance. Shorter -- repentance is to exercise faith in Christ by asking for forgiveness both from the Lord and from the person wronged. Then it is in the Lord's hands. This is the short-term version.

The long-term version of repentance I prefer to think of as salvation. The Lord works throughout my life to help cleanse me of sin -- through situations, people, problems, callings, that cross my path. He will work out my salvation if I trust in Him and stay close, continuing to exercise faith in Him, striving to follow the Spirit.

"Falling away" is something I haven't thought to define before. Without a lot of time to ponder, I guess I might say that falling away would be to reject Christ. Falling away would be to decide that the commandments aren't worth following, that Christ or God doesn't exist or don't care or ask too much. Falling away is deciding that the real truth is whatever justifies your behavior and desires, regardless of what the Lord has stated.

Falling away is NOT committing a sin. If it were, I would have fallen away countless times. I think falling away is deliberately walking away and not letting Christ into your life anymore.

I don't know if that matches your thoughts. It's only fair to ask you the same question. How would you define those things? I would additionally like your definition of "save" or "salvation" because I wonder if we aren't talking at cross-purposes on this point.

I believe salvation is the process by which the Savior (with the Holy Ghost) cleanses us from sin, so that we can stand pure and holy before Him at the judgment bar. I believe it is a lifelong process, and not an amazing spiritual manifestation of one moment in life. This may not be quite accurate -- maybe sanctification is a better word for it. But salvation is certainly the process by which I will be permitted back into the presence of Heavenly Father, and I must be cleansed from all sin for that to happen. We can segment it into justification, sanctification, salvation, etc if we must, but I think salvation encompasses it all.

To change the subject, regarding Joseph Smith, you wrote,"Certainly his failure to do all he did would have impacted both me and the world in terms of delaying the restoration of the gospel (I say delaying, because I believe God would have restored it through someone else, in that case)." I just wanted to say I absolutely agree with you there. Christ's work can and will be done with or without me and my efforts. But I'm pretty sure I promised Him I would help.

Where I have to respectfully disagree is where you wrote,"If Joseph's heart was turned to Christ, I imagine he would have been awarded the same chance to accept the fullness of the gospel in the next life that everyone else has." My gut reaction to this is that he was already given the fullness of the gospel in this life. If you have that knowledge and deliberately walk away, knowing full well you are rejecting the truth, then you forfeit the chance to accept it later. You had your chance. (At which point we could discuss what it means to really "know", but let's not go there right now).
Unless of course, you are thinking he walked away early on, before really gaining the knowledge of the gospel that he did later on. Then he would get that chance. But I still think he would be held accountable for what he did know.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Hi again, Kelly! I am enjoying this discussion...

First, terms. I tend to think of repentance as an existential change. I grew up thinking repetnance was a 4-step process you had to do over and over again for every bad thing you do, or else the sins would still be on your soul when you die and keep you out of the Celestial Kingdom. I have come to refine that view, and now see repentance as a state of being where one constantly seeks Christ's will as opposed to a single "event" or series of events. I believe God grants repentance, or the Mighty Change of Heart, upon one's acceptance of Christ (which is then phyiscally sealed through the ordinance of baptism).

I do think part of this ongoing process includes cleaning up your messes when you make them--with God by your side, of course. :)

It sounds to me like we're pretty much agreed on this point...yes?

Just a personal story. As an intense perfectionist, I nearly KILLED myself with the other approach. In fact, I remember times on my mission when I would go back through my days, weeks, months, and years, identify each sin I ever committed, and individually "repent" of them all. And I'm kind of a bad person, so there were A LOT. :) It was awful. Anyway, I just wanted to explain that while it might seem to someone a little bit more stable (like yourself) that I'm splitting hairs, this particular realization was a complete eye-opener for me and has quite literally saved me years of heartache.

Salvation. As you aptly pointed out, there are a bazillion ways to define salvation, but for the purposes of this discussion, I like "inheriting the Celestial Kingdom." I agree that processes involved with salvation are justification (meaning justice is fulfilled but we are still found blameless) and sanctification (the actual cleansing of sin). I believe these are granted upon accepting Christ through the covenant (i.e. baptism). Here is where we might have a little bit of disagreement, I'm not sure.

I think once we have accepted Christ through the covenant, we are made perfect in Christ. We are covered by His grace. I mean right here, right now. In other words, I believe that I am right now, at this very minute, perfect in Christ. I am not perfect on my own (as the Lord knows all too well), but because Christ's grace is sufficent for me, if I were to die at this moment, I would be okay. The Evangelicals would call this being "saved." In this sense, "salvation" refers to being made whole in Christ while in mortality.

I also agree with your definition of "falling away." Which means, to me, we are not in danger of losing our salvation at every turn--only if we make a conscious choice to turn our back on Christ and un-accept (word?) his gift. Again, this was another big breakthrough for me. In addition to going back in my mind and trying to cover all the sins I ever committed, I was terrified that at any moment I would commit a *new* sin that would damn me forever. It was a miserable way to live.

That's why I said I'm not sure that if Joseph had faltered that he wouldn't have been saved still. I mean, certainly there were many areas of his life where he *did* falter--as with all of us! (For the record, I *was* referring to him walking away, early on.) But even as I consider it now...if he had faltered later in life...well, who am I to judge? Perhaps if he had renounced it all, walked away, rejected Jesus--that might be one thing. But if it just got to be too much? It's really not mine to say. I mean, for years, many members of the church accused Emma of faltering--yet I would never question her standing before God. You know?

Anyway, those are just my thoughts for now. Thanks for listening. ;) Would be interested to hear any feedback you have...

Have a super day!
Katie

Seth R. said...

Emma Smith is an interesting case. She is generally revered in the Modern LDS Church. But people forget that she actually "apostatized" if you want to call it that.

She never acknowledged Brigham Young's claim and Brigham and Emma never got along very well. Emma went on to help start the RLDS Church. A few nasty rumors were circulated about Emma among the Utah Mormons, which thankfully are not circulating anymore.

But it's an interesting question to ponder what, if anything, Emma lost in the eternal scheme of things.

Laura said...

Seth--for a few years I spent a fair amount of time thinking about Emma Smith and what it all meant. For awhile I figured (because everyone is like me!) she must have gone through some depressive episode that caused her to leave the Church. Given all the things that happened to her, it's possible. But I also eventually decided that it is unfair to speculate about her and her choices. Her faith is between her and God and, again, given what she lived through, I try to avoid jumping to conclusions. Sometimes life is messy and people are unexplainable. In my mind she falls in that category and because I respect her as a person--and not just as a LDS--I avoid speculating about her.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

In my mind she falls in that category and because I respect her as a person--and not just as a LDS--I avoid speculating about her.

Thanks, Laura.

I didn't mean to open a can of worms speculating about Emma Smith's eternal destiny. She, like Joseph, is one of the most fascinating people I've ever studied. I have a great deal of admiration for her, though I don't fully understand her.

My point was simply that *because* life is messy, as you put it, it's not for us to judge--and that's why Christ is there (to clean up).

(I don't know if you've had a similar experience, but coming to terms with the fact that life IS messy is one of those principles that has really given me peace. I no longer carry around such unrealistic expectations for myself or others. I know I sound like a freakin' broken record, but I'm just so, so grateful that Jesus is there to clean up our messes. I don't want to make it sound like you just have to believe in Jesus more to make all your problems go away, but the hope I've found in Him is one of the best things I've found to get a handle on my anxiety. Well, that and therapy. And ice cream.)

Kelly said...

Hey there, sorry to disappear for a few days. I occasionally have times where I'm a little overly busy and haven't had a chance to check back in on the chat here.

I think you're right -- we are agreed on how we define repentance. I do think me maybe have differing definitions of salvation, but I think if we get right down to it, we pretty much think the same things. But, you're right -- it takes some time to come to that realization that repentance isn't a 4-step process to go through every single time you do something wrong. I like the idea of flying an airplane -- you make occasional course corrections, but for the most part as long as you're still trying to get to your destination, you're OK. But you can't just leave it on auto-pilot -- you've gotta grab those controls with both hands and use them.

I must admit I brought up Joseph Smith only when you asked about if I felt I needed to do all of the "works" expected in the church or I would lose my salvation. I wanted to put the question in the light of someone besides me, and one who I think was "saved" despite his errors, but who I also think had more expected of him than I ever will, and who may very well have had his salvation in jeopardy had he given up. But in this case as in Emma's, we really don't know. It's just intellectual bantering.

I grew up loving Emma Smith, although I know for years and years many church members did not. All I can say is that she suffered tremendously, and no doubt Satan worked very hard to fight both her and Joseph. I don't know if I would have had the strength to endure all she did. And if it proved too much and she fell away, I still believe there is a great amount of mercy offered to her for all she endured -- and there will be compensatory blessings. We sometimes forget, too, that when Emma stayed behind, Mother Smith (Joseph's mom) did too. And since I can't get into her head and find out what she was thinking, I'll just have to wonder why until I can ask her myself.

I love ice cream too -- ice cream and Oreos can drown away almost any sorrow. Or at least give me five minutes of joy.

Seth R. said...

I'm not generally inclined to fault a mother for sticking with her kids.