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.
My last post was about doubt, something with which I am intimately acquainted due to my lifelong battle with OCD (often called the “doubting disease”). Obviously, chronic doubt, like the kind associated with OCD, can have a profound impact on one’s spiritual life — so I wrote the post in an attempt to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned in my quest to cultivate faith anyway. I hope it can be a source of help and strength not just for OCD sufferers, but people who struggle with doubt in any way (which, let’s face it, is all of us).
It occurred to me this morning, though, that spirituality isn’t the only thing impacted by OCD. It has also has a major effect on emotional health. So today, I wanted to share some of the strategies I’ve learned about being emotionally healthy, despite managing a mental illness. I haven’t always been great at these — and, in fact, am still mastering most of them — but they are useful principles that I work on daily.
As best I can recreate it, here’s a short, 5-minute talk I gave on Sunday as part of our ward’s primary program. Topic? “I Know My Savior Lives.” Of all the things I’m thankful for in my life, Jesus is definitely top of my list. It isn’t possible for me to adequately express my feelings about the Master in five minutes or in a simple blog post, but here at least is the crux of the matter for me. Yay Jesus!! 🙂
My relationship to Mormonism is like my marriage.
When I first married my husband, I thought he was one way. Handsome, funny, vibrant, talented, charismatic, intelligent.
And he is all of those things — and much, much more.
But the more I got to know him, the more I became acquainted with his faults. His inflexibility, his quickness to anger, his tendency to withdraw emotionally even when I need him.
It was a terrifying discovery.
Because as a young woman, idealistic and naive, I believed that love makes everything better — and that “better” means smoother, simpler, without stress or strain.
What, then, to do when I discovered that it was harder than I thought it would be? That along with the intimacy and joy, I’d be fighting through pain, frustration, anxiety, even heartache?
If it’s really right, shouldn’t it be easier than this?
I gave a lesson in Relief Society today on Luke 7:36-51, the story of the sinful woman who anoints Christ and washes His feet in her tears. I titled the lesson “Do You See Her?”
I started out by asking the sisters to imagine a woman whom Christ approves of, a woman who is acceptable to Him. Then I asked them for the characteristics of such a woman, and I listed them on the board. I got answers like:
We turned to the scriptures. I took the story slowly, bit by bit, including the parable of the forgiving creditor, and the culmination when the Savior tells the woman that her faith has saved her.
I asked the sisters: “What do you think it means to have saving faith?”
NOTE: This post is rated PG-13 for swearing. I got fired up. You’ve been warned.
A self-described “Molly Mormon” named Kathy wrote in to Dr. Elia, who I guess is some sort of shrink. Kathy is having an ongoing conflict with her husband over their level of church activity. She’s fearful for her family’s eternal salvation because her husband says you can still get to heaven without listening to General Conference (gasp!), occasionally missing church to go camping (horrors!) or…brace yourselves now…not attending the temple and “just living good.”
Dr. Elia, she writes, am I being too churchy? What can I do to help my marriage?
Dr. Elia’s answer: “The main issue afflicting your marriage is lack of spiritual intimacy.” He then goes on to offer the solution–which is, essentially: “Change your husband” (because, obviously, that always works) by doing the following things…
- Have a heart-to-heart with your husband, and bring in the bishop if necessary to “moderate” the discussion (because I know I’m always so grateful when I get ratted on)
- Read the scriptures and your patriarchal blessings together
- Ask him if he wants the kids to become heathens?
- If all else fails, remember that everyone always gets what’s coming to them, and at some point your husband is going to realize how much he needs God; let’s just hope it’s not too painful when it happens (though he’d totally deserve it, the bastard)
Uhhh…hello? There’s so much wrong with this advice, I don’t even know where to start.
You see, on many levels, I was Kathy, just a couple of years ago. I can totally picture her, struggling day after day to do everything she thinks she’s supposed to do—raise the perfect children, have the perfect family—and she’s terrified God’s going to keep them from her if they don’t measure up. And what bothers me most is that in five short paragraphs, this so-called “expert” succeeded in further entrenching this miserable woman in her perfectionist, legalistic worldview…set her up to take a confrontational, oppositional position against her husband…and utterly failed to correct her destructive doctrine.
Who the hell pays people to come up with this crap?
WORST. ADVICE. EVER.
Well, I’m no shrink. But if I were in her shoes (and I was), here’s what I’d wish someone would tell me: Read the rest of this entry
Five years ago, in Pernik, Bulgaria, I sat in our cluttered living room, my head in my hands. It had been a particularly discouraging day. My mind was heavy with confusion and doubts.
“I don’t know if I have ever felt forgiveness from Jesus,” I told my companion. “I don’t think I know what the atonement even means.”
It started a few weeks before my mission began. A desperate struggle, battling guilt and despair over all the sins I had ever committed. I’d always considered myself a good person, righteous, worthy, etc. But now, in the heightened state of spiritual strain only a full-time mission can bring, as I ran the last few years back through my mind over and over again, I realized I had not exactly been a model Mormon.
The ones that hurt worst were the ones I’d done deliberately, almost with glee, sure that God had better things to do than worry about my minor indiscretions. And they were mostly minor. Watching R-rated movies, for example, or kissing boys I barely knew just for the helluvit. Oh yeah. And cursing.
It ate away at me. I plead with God constantly for an experience like Alma the Younger or Enos, who had sweet and undeniable assurances of their worthiness before God. But every time, disparaging thoughts came haunting back…They were different–they weren’t believers–you should have known–Jesus shouldn’t have to bear your load–how dare you even ask?
It lasted all through my mission. It’s probably why I had so few baptisms. I worked so hard my feet developed blisters and my body ached every night, but I taught without testimony. How could I preach the Savior when I hardly knew Him myself?
After I came home, it didn’t get better. If anything, it got worse. Persistent fear. Guilt over every mistake. I was angry at how much more difficult it was to be righteous at home than it had been in the mission field, and I began to resent my mission experience for creating an expectation for a standard I would never be able to achieve again.
Then marriage. And motherhood. Every mounting responsibility brought the looming specter of potential failure. It paralyzed me.
Around this time, Lanny began dialogging with evangelical Christians online. I watched their discussions from a careful distance. They spoke of a concept I had never understood–in fact, a concept I had Bible bashed on my mission–the concept of salvation by grace, not works. It seemed too good to be true. But considering my misery, I gave it a closer look. I spent hours reading books and talks and articles and blogs. I attended lectures by visiting Christian theologians. I felt the tug of mercy.
I began to learn that repentance isn’t a checklist, but a realization of your total dependence on Christ. That you can never be “good enough,” no matter how hard you try, and so you ask God to cleanse you–and He does. That good works can never save you, no matter how good or how plentiful they are. That you serve God because you love Him, because He created you and saved you, not because you’re trying to work your way to heaven.
It was a revolutionary paradigm shift for me. I lightened up. I found joy in living again.
It still disturbs me that I had to learn this from sources outside the Church. In fact, when I compared my newfound understanding with everything I’d learned about salvation from my Mormon upbringing, I almost left the Church entirely. The works-centric vocabulary…the constant injunctions to “be worthy”…and that incomprehensible scripture in 2 Nephi that still gives me heartburn: “After all we can do…”
In the end, I stayed because the Book of Mormon is, at its core, a Christ-centered volume. I stayed because, for all my doubts and confusion, I’ve had spiritual experiences I can’t deny. And I stayed because I hope my sweet grandma is waiting for me on the other side…and I’d sure like to be with her forever.
What’s more, I feel the winds of change in the Church. I know I’m not the only one to have suffered needlessly from an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of grace. I see it preached more openly and freely now than even 5 years ago. Perhaps it’s because now I have ears to hear. Whatever the case, I hope that in some small way I might be able to contribute to a Christ-centered revolution within Mormonism, where He takes His proper place at the core of absolutely everything we do in the Church.
*Please note that when I say “Evangelical Mormon,” I mean I subscribe to a religious philosophy that declares that salvation is through the grace of Christ, not works, and advocate that position within Mormonism. I do NOT support much–if anything–of what the Evangelical movement stands for politically.