Over the past few months, there’s an idea I’ve been trying to articulate. It’s the idea of “becoming Real” — that, somehow, embracing “who we really are” is critical to being happy and healthy, and that it is God’s love that facilitates this. I’ve written about it in one form or another here, here, here, and here.
I finally got some clarity on it a week or so ago. During my 12-hour drive to our new city, I listened to portions of a book called Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Oddly enough, it’s a book about masculinity (why I’m reading it is a long but unrelated story), but there is a section that resonated with me as profoundly universal for both men and women.
The concept is basically this…
In my last post, I introduced an idea that is fundamental to the way I make sense of this world: a perspective of radical freedom and radical grace.
Today, I want to explore another implication of this approach: the value of weakness.
In our fast-paced, modern world — and, let’s face it, our self-reliant Mormon culture — there is a sense that weakness and vulnerability are signs of inferiority. That when we struggle, it is because we are doing something “wrong”; or, perhaps, not doing enough things “right.”
And sure enough, with the radical freedom we possess, we create much of our own misery with our choices. That’s part of the purpose of this life, after all; to learn by our experience to determine good from evil.
But not all struggle is “choice”-related. Some of it is the inherent frailty of the flesh. We might say that Nature is as Radically Free as we are, and that it evolves all kinds of problems, such as illness, appetite, brutality, and disaster. For all its stunning beauty, the natural world is also viciously cruel: we have no power against a tsunami, for example. We are polarized beings in a polarized world, with sparks of divinity competing against base, fleshly instincts and natural processes that can destroy us in an instant.
Of course, we would not be free otherwise. Without both extremes, it would be like living in the Truman Show or the Hunger Games, with everything, even the weather, perfectly controlled. There are some who view God this way, as Master Game Maker, but not me. I believe that uncertainty, disease, and corruption are the price we pay for freedom. And that it’s worth it.
The question is what we do with it.
In Sunday School this week, we’re studying the Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:17-35).
I LOVE the Psalm of Nephi. It’s one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon. It reminds me of how trustworthy and merciful God is, and how frail I am without Him. But I haven’t always felt this way. For a time, it was a baffling bit of scripture. I struggled to fit it into a worldview that left little room for mistakes.
This is the 100th post on my blog! Celebration time!!!!! 🙂
Since it’s my hundredth post, and it’s coming up on the New Year, I thought it might be a nice opportunity for reflection. So I went through some of the old posts I’d written. WOW. What a transformative few years it’s been since I started writing my blog in June 2008.
In some ways, it’s painful to read. In other ways, it’s miraculous. I read between the lines and remember what this journey has been. In particular, it’s striking to revisit the agonizing confusion that came with my fight against OCD, especially before I knew I had OCD (I wasn’t diagnosed until December 2010, but I have been battling it my whole life). I see it in every post, every question. And yet, I would not change any of it. OCD has been my life’s greatest trial; but as is often the case with great trials, it has also provided many of my greatest gifts.
Today, I’d like to share some of the gifts OCD has given me — graces I would not have received were it not for my day-to-day struggle to live a rich, meaningful life despite my disorder. I write this for the benefit of others struggling with difficult trials of every variety (including myself!), but with a special place in my heart for those facing mental illness. I hope this will be a reminder that there is meaning in our battle, that God can create tremendous beauty from even the deepest despair, that there is hope for all of us.
I’ve always loved the passage in Jacob 4:13, which explains the primary role of the Spirit: “…The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are…” (emphasis mine).
The idea of Things As They Really Are is one of the most profound spiritual concepts I’ve ever encountered. It’s about much more than adhering to the “correct” interpretation of abstract theological principles; it’s about embracing all the truth we can, even difficult truth, on our way to a fully actualized life in Christ. As important as good theology is, I believe that on the path of real discipleship, often the most difficult truths we encounter are personal — things we’d rather not face about our communities and families, and especially ourselves. And yet the Spirit exists to show us these truths, to help us strip away layers of deceit and shame, so that we can stand face to face with God, knowing Him even as we are known (see 1 Cor 13:12).
I often think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they discovered their nakedness. Suddenly ashamed, they rushed to make coverings of fig leaves — as if, somehow, the fig leaves would restore their former innocence, or at least hide that they had sinned. But God wasn’t fooled. He called out to them, made them stand before Him, demanded an accounting of what they’d done (as if He didn’t know). Then He cast them away with a curse…and a covering of skins He crafted for them.
There was a time this story made me shudder. I imagined myself standing before God, naked, exposed; and God sending me away, angry with my performance. How is this love? I wondered. I had missed two critical points in the story:
For RMA, who doubts everything (just like me)
I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting today that I wanted to share here: Choosing Faith in the Face of Doubt.
I’ve got a really scratchy audio recording, which has a few seconds of children fussing and crying at the very beginning (and, of course, throughout — it wouldn’t be a Mormon Sacrament Meeting otherwise!). 🙂
If you can’t stand the bad audio, I also created a PDF version you can download here: Choosing Faith in the Face of Doubt.
The full text is copied and pasted below…
Special Note about My LDS Lesson Recaps: Please feel free to use any of this material in preparation for your own LDS Relief Society lesson plan or sacrament meeting talk — no attribution required. 🙂
This lesson outline comes from a mini-workshop I taught this past Saturday at our stake women’s conference on Living a Christ-Centered Life. This is how it came to be: the stake relief society president caught me after church one Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach something at the conference. I said yes. She said, “What topic interests you?”
I replied, “Well, Sister E., I’m happy to teach whatever you’d like, but you should know that I’m over the moon for Jesus.”
And thus this lesson was born.
I was recently released from my calling in the primary (hooray!) and called to be a Relief Society teacher (double hooray!). In the past, whenever I’ve taught a Relief Society lesson, I’ve shared a recap here. I’ve enjoyed that, because it’s generated more discussion after the fact — and heaven knows I love a good religious discussion! — and because I think it’s nice to have an archive of lessons that I can look back on over time.
Today’s lesson was called Survival through Faith. It was based on three general conference talks: Faith–The Choice Is Yours by Richard C. Edgley; Our Very Survival by Kevin R. Duncan; and Never Leave Him by Neil L. Anderson.
Today, I made a change to my Facebook profile. In the “info” box, I wrote:
Katie L. is a wife, a mother, a professional copywriter, a devoted Christian, a friend, and a teacher-to-be.
After I wrote it, I sat there for about 10 minutes, wondering if I should post it, afraid my self-identification as a Christian might alarm people. In the end I decided it doesn’t really matter, because it’s how I feel.
I’m a Mormon, yes. But I’m not a Mormon first. I’m a Christian first, a follower of Christ. He is the One I worship, adore, and to whom I owe everything. He is the One who pulled me from perfectionism and anxiety and brought me lasting peace. The LDS church, for all the good it does, is not itself the vehicle of my salvation. Christ is. And it is to Him first and foremost that I owe my allegiance.