Lehi, shortly before his death, is speaking a final time to Jacob and his other sons.
The Messiah will come in the fulness of time to redeem us from the fall.
Because the children of men are redeemed from the fall, they are free forever – they know good from evil, they are able to act for themselves, and they have been rescued from death and hell.
Everything that is expedient for us has been given to us.
We are free to choose – life and liberty through Christ or death and captivity through the devil.
Look to the great Mediator – Jesus Christ. Hearken to His commandments, be faithful, and choose eternal life!
Don’t choose eternal death which will captivate us and bring us to hell.
Lehi has spoken these words to his sons. He has chosen the good part. Lehi, more than anything, desires the eternal welfare of his children’s souls.
There is so much that could be studied in these last few verses. We read about what the Savior offers – liberty and life. We read about what the Devil offers – captivity and death. We read that we can choose which path we take. We read Lehi’s pleading that his sons will choose the Mediator and life, liberty, and joy.
Yes, there is so much to study and learn. There are so many rabbit holes we can go down, but for today, I am feeling drawn to phrase from verse 27:
…all things are given them which are expedient unto man. …
So – first of all, I feel like I know the definition of the word expedient, but I’m going to look it up in the dictionary just to really get clarity on it.
1 : suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance.
This is really interesting to me. As usual, I have gained extra insight by checking the definition of this word. It probably won’t surprise you to know that I think words are important. I majored in English, I like reading and writing, and I just feel that the words we use are meaningful.
Additionally, I think that the words in the scriptures are important. Now, I understand that these scriptures were written in another language and then translated into English. So, maybe there is some meaning lost in translation. We need to do our best. Even though words are important, they aren’t as important as the impressions that we receive from the Holy Ghost.
When we assume meanings of words, places, and information in the scriptures, then we may be limiting what the Holy Ghost has to work with. (I hope that makes sense!)
So – the dictionary, maps, or other helps are simply helps! They don’t trump the Spirit. However, they can aid the Spirit to help us better understand what we are reading and what we need to know.
Okay…enough of that. Back to the word expedient.
I will admit that my understanding of the word expedient was synonymous with necessary.
However, my initial understanding of expediency was not precise. Now that I have read these definitions, I’m realizing that expedience actually means advantageous.
In other words, when the Lord says, “and all things are given them [people] which are expedient unto man.” It means that He has given us every advantage that we need in order for us to achieve the desired object: eternal life.
Let’s see. How can I illustrate this in a way that makes sense…Imagine that you are going to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, and your father has offered to help you with provisions.
We will make two lists of provisions – one based what is necessary and the other based on what is expedient.
You have decided to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. You have a father that has offered to help you with only the necessary provisions. What would the list of necessary provisions include???
I honestly can’t think of anything else that is absolutely necessary for hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. In fact, maybe the water isn’t necessary. Maybe he would only hand you a water filter. Do you need shoes? They might be nice, but you don’t necessarily need them. Food? Again, it is possible to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in a day, so you should be fine without food. Not an absolute need.
Water. That’s about it.
Now, let’s think of your deciding to hike the Grand Canyon with a father who has offered to help you with expedient provisions. Already, the difference is obvious. Instead of giving you only what is necessary, He is giving you what is advantageous to your success.
A Water filter if you need more water along the way.
A backpack with a water bladder to easily hold the water you will need.
A marked trail that you might want to traverse
Food – an apple, granola, salted nuts
A small knife – you never know when you might need this tool
A small first aid kit – in case of blisters, etc
A cell phone – in case of an emergency so you can contact him for help, and equipped with a camera so you can snap a few photos along the way
Okay…there are probably more things that we could list, but I think you get the idea. The father who is helping your trip to the Grand Canyon by giving you all things that are expedient for your trip rather than necessary is giving you an amazing advantage. He is interested in your success. With this kind of support you cannot fail unless you choose not to take step after step.
In 2 Nephi 2, we have learned a lot about the Plan of Salvation. We have learned that we, indeed, are living in a fallen world. We have learned that there is opposition in all things. We have learned that there are two forces actively working in our lives – either to bring us to eternal life and liberty or never-ending captivity and death.
Not only that, but we have been assured that we have been given that which is expedient for us. In other words, the Lord has given us the advantages that will bring us success. It is up to us to choose to simply accept the Lord and put one metaphorical foot in front of the other.
And what are those expedient things???
The Savior! We have been given a Savior who will act as a Mediator. He overcame the fall and extends His mercy to each of us so that we can make it back to our Father in Heaven.
The restored gospel
Families – no matter how they look!
Prophets and apostles
The Power of the Priesthood
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
This is a pretty general list, and it applies broadly. However, I believe that the Lord is also involved in the details of our lives and blesses us with “expedient things” based on our own personal missions, weaknesses, and strengths. This personalized list includes…
Specific spiritual gifts – we each have them and they help us with our specific needs, missions, and lives
Talents – again we each have different talents that help us individually
Challenges – the Lord not only chastises those whom He loves, but has also promised to consecrate our afflictions for our gain. So, even though challenges may seem like a derailment from success, they are made expedient through His Atonement.
Experiences – if we will look for the Lord in our lives, we will see how our experiences give us the “expedient” tools we need to fulfill our life’s mission.
Agency – we can choose!
Obviously, not all of us enjoy every gift on the lists above. Or at least, they may not seem as effective from our perspective. Maybe we were born into a broken home. That may not seem expedient. However, all of the things on the list exist with the added benefit of our Savior. He performed an Atonement. Because of the Savior, we can find that our being born in a broken home might have been difficult, but perhaps it gave us the exact resilience we would need in this life to make it to our destination!
The Lord will consecrate our afflictions for our gain – this is expediency. He will turn our disadvantages to advantages! We cannot lose. If we will choose to put one foot in front of the other, if we will choose to accept the Mediator, the Savior, our Redeemer, then we have every advantage we need.
It’s up to us to choose…and with the Lord, we cannot lose.
Nephi is answering his brothers questions about what Isaiah spoke in Isaiah 48-49.
Israel will be scattered – physically – all over the earth.
Some of the children of Israel will be led away and protected from harm – but still led away or scattered.
Some of the children of Israel will be confounded and scattered because they hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.
The house of Israel will become apostate.
Eventually, the Lord will work a marvelous work and wonder – among the Gentiles. He will restore His gospel and covenants.
The Gentiles would then take the gospel and covenants back to the house of Israel.
Eventually, all of the people of the earth will know that the Lord—the Mighty One of Israel—is Savior and Redeemer.
Those who fight against God (the great and abominable church) will start to war with themselves. They will be ensnared in the pit that they dug for the righteous.
The Lord will not suffer that the wicked will destroy the righteous. He will preserve the righteous by His power – even if it means that he will destroy their enemies by fire.
After the Lord has saved his people, and destroyed the wicked, Satan will not have any power -this because of the righteousness of the people and through the expression of their agency.
A Prophet will be raised up – it is the Savior. We need to heed Him.
The Prophet, Jesus, Will gather his children from the all over earth. He will be their shepherd. There will be one fold and one shepherd, and He will feed His sheep.
When He has gathered His sheep, they will dwell in righteousness. Satan will have no power—not because the Lord will bind Him. Satan’s power will be quelled because of the righteousness of the people – because of their agency. They will no longer be fascinated by sin.
We can dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel, but we must repent.
The words of the prophets are true. If we will be obedient, then we will be saved.
Repent and Dwell Safely
Today’s is the third and final post on the concept of repenting and dwelling safely – with the focus on dwelling safely, specifically. Previously, we studied repentance. You can read the first two posts here and here.
Even though I won’t get much into repentance in this post, in case you haven’t read the other ones, I will say that I’m looking at repentance as something more than simply confessing and forsaking sins. Instead, repentance is turning away from our natural tendencies and toward God. Repentance is our choice to change our minds – away from the carnal, sensual, and devilish – and toward the heavenly, holy, and angelic. This may be done through confessing and forsaking sin. It may also be done through other practices including prayer, scripture study, and anything that helps us to have a Heavenly perspective.
Now that we are on the same page regarding repentance, we will move on. In 1 Nephi, we read:
“28 But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.” – 1 Nephi 22:28
One – Who?
The invitation to dwell safely is open to ALL. All nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. There isn’t a person that is going to be denied a safe dwelling place. The only qualification is repentance – or turning to the Lord.
Two – Who…Again?
There are two “who’s” in this scripture. First the invitee (everyone!). The second is the inviter.
Who is inviting us? It is the Lord. It is the Holy One of Israel. He is the One who offers us the promise that if we repent, then we will dwell safely in Him.
Three – What does this mean?
This is what I really want to ponder today, I guess. What does it mean to dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel.
I looked up dwell in the dictionary. We have a few definitions:
1: to remain for a time dwell in the hallway
2 a : to live as a resident the town in which he dwelled for eight years the dwelling place of the gods
b : EXIST, LIE where the heart of the matter dwells
3a : to keep the attention directed —used with on or upon tried not to dwell on my fears
b : to speak or write insistently —used with on or upon reporters dwelling on the recent scandal ” – Merriam Webster Dictionary: Dwell
I don’t know for sure the best use of dwell here. I suppose that dwelling safely in the Lord may actually have more than one application in our lives, depending on the circumstances in our lives.
For example, maybe “dwelling safely” in the Lord is – more of a 2b – thing – to exist. If we are turned to the Lord, we can be in the most horrible of circumstances, yet still be dwelling in His safety. I can’t help but think of an examples such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who suffered in concentration camps during World War 2. He endured suffering. He was executed. He did not “dwelt safely” in a physical sense.
Yet, it seems that he did dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel – he had perspective and hope for a better world that would come later.
i know I shouldn’t speak for him.
And I can’t even begin to imagine the suffering that he endured. But it is my belief that we can dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel anywhere. We can stand in holy places anywhere. It is about our agency and our attitude. If we have an attitude of repentance – where we are keeping our minds and hearts single to God’s glory by actively turning against the Natural man – then we create these holy places where we can dwell safely in the Lord wherever we are.
All of that being said, I believe that this promise can have physical, literal application as well.
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world,…” – Ether 12:4
Not only do I like what Ether taught, I believe it! I believe that the Lord will offer us literal safety and peace. If everyone was choosing to turn to the Lord during the 1940s, for example, then the entire holocaust wouldn’t have happened. The world would have been a safer and happier place – for all.
Of course, everyone wasn’t choosing to turn to the Lord in the 1940s. Many people suffered and died because of the pain caused by hatred, malice, and evil. The suffering, though, of the righteous will not be eternal. God will hear their cries, and He will compensate through His grace. Elder Wirthlin taught of the principle of compensation:
“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.
One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
When we repent, when we turn to the Lord, then we will dwell—free from harm—in Him.
Who – One Last Time
Let’s think about the Holy One of Israel, where we will safely dwell if we repent, one more time.
In the Bible Dictionary we read:
“The anointed (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew). Jesus, who is called Christ, is the firstborn of the Father in the spirit and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is Jehovah and was foreordained to His great calling in the Grand Councils before the world was. He was born of Mary at Bethlehem, lived a sinless life, and wrought out a perfect atonement for all mankind by the shedding of His blood and His death on the cross. He rose from the grave and brought to pass the bodily resurrection of every living thing and the salvation and exaltation of the faithful.
He is the greatest Being to be born on this earth—the perfect example—and all religious things should be done in His name. He is Lord of lords, King of kings, the Creator, the Savior, the God of the whole earth, the Captain of our salvation, the Bright and Morning Star. He is in all things, above all things, through all things, and round about all things; He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; His name is above every name and is the only name under heaven by which we can be saved.” – Bible Dictionary: Christ
Really read through that. Jesus Christ, is the Holy One of Israel. He Is:
The Resurrection – When we dwell in Him, He offers us life after death. He offers hope!
The exemplar – When we dwell in Him, we have an example, a pattern. We don’t have to be uninformed or ignorant.
Lord of lords – When we dwell in Him, we dwell with the Lord who exceeds all. And He is righteous, to boot!
King of kings – When we dwell in Him, we dwell with the most powerful and righteous king. We aren’t dwelling with an egomaniac, but a loving leader.
the Creator – When we dwell in Him, we are dwelling with the Creator. He created this earth, our bodies, we can trust Him for help with our physical concerns.
The Savior – When we dwell in Him, we are dwelling with the One who will save us – overcoming both death and hell. I wouldn’t want to dwell with someone who doesn’t have this power!
The God of the Whole Earth – When we dwell in Him, we are dwelling with the being that understands everything because He is the God of it. I mean, this just makes sense. What safer dwelling place could we have than with the God of this very earth!
The Captain of Our Salvation – When we dwell in Him, we are dwelling with a Being who loves us enough to offer us eternal salvation. I love the idea of dwelling with someone who will run to stop the bus, rather than throw me under it. Can you imagine dwelling with someone who is abusive and full of hate?! You would want to get out. The Savior is neither abusive or hate-filled. He is loving, He offers us Salvation, He is kind, He uplifts, and He builds us up.
The Bright and Morning Star – When we dwell in Him, we dwell in light. We dwell in hope. We dwell in truth.
It’s a pretty good deal for us. The Lord has extended an invitation to us all. We are invited to dwell safely in Him, if we will but repent. We will dwell safely in His peace, love, sacrifice, omnipotence, omniscience, and salvation – if we will but change our hearts and mind – from the things of the world and instead toward Him.
Lehi sees a tree with fruit that is desirable to make one happy.
Lehi partook of the fruit. It was sweet above all that he had before tasted and white above all whiteness he had ever seen.
When Lehi partook of the fruit, it filled his soul with joy.
Lehi was desirous that his family should also partake of the fruit.
If you remember from yesterday’s reading, Lehi had been in a dark and dreary waste. He saw a man who bid Lehi to come and follow Him. Lehi did.
After following Him, Lehi found himself in the dark and dreary waste again. This time, he prayed, and then saw a spacious field and a tree.
Even from afar off, he saw that the tree had desirable fruit.
What made the fruit so desirable? Why did he want it so bad?
Seeing a Tree of Life After Traveling in a Dark and Dreary Waste
Well – first of all, I suppose that seeing this tree with white fruit was a stark contrast from the dark and dreary world that he had been in prior to seeing the tree. He described it as a “dark and dreary waste.” After being in such a dark and dreary waste, the glowing tree would seem quite desirable.
Desirable to Make One Happy
Again, I think that it is helpful to think of the Fruit in contrast to the “dark and dreary waste.”
Even though I can understand what “dreary” means, I thought that I’d look it up in the dictionary:
“Dull, bleak, and lifeless; depressing.”
Imagine the joy to see a tree – wait, not just any tree – the Tree of Life after being lost in a dark and dreary world … a dark, dull, bleak, lifeless, and depressing world. Imagine that joy.
The idea that is coming to me is that it would be like “seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lehi wandered in darkness, lifelessness. It was discouraging and depressing. I’m willing to guess that maybe Lehi even felt hopeless. In fact, we know that after a while, he finally prayed to God for help.
And after that prayer, things opened up for him. He saw a large field. And then, a tree – full of life. The antithesis of that dark and dreary waste in which he had spent hours wandering.
“And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.” – 1 Nephi 8:11
I’ve got a sweet tooth, so I don’t need any more convincing on why this fruit was great.
Again, we read:
“Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.” – 1 Nephi 8:11
Not only was the fruit sweet, but Lehi describes it as “white” – to exceed all of the whiteness he had ever seen.
I think that this is symbolic of Lehi’s understanding that it is not just any old fruit. This fruit is special. It is heavenly. The fruit of this tree is not like an apple, pear, or even a mango. It has a quality – perhaps it’s even shining out because it is so white.
And we have to remember that this was a dream. Everything Lehi is experiencing is within his dream. Which means that everything is symbolic of something else.
I suppose if I was having a dream, and there was a tree with white, glowing fruit – in stark contrast to the dark and dreary world where I had just been – I think that I would recognize this tree as celestial.
So – that’s my best guess on the “whiteness” of this tree.
“It Filled My Soul with Exceedingly Great Joy”
Lehi’s determination to partake of this fruit is good. His instincts – that this fruit was desirable to make one happy – were right. He proceeds to the tree, partakes, and then we read:
“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy;” – 1 Nephi 8:12
Even though so much has changed in the last 2600 years, there are some things that are still the exact same. We want to be happy. Isn’t that so much of what motivates us, for better or for worse?
What I mean is, often we make decisions – even if they are bad decisions – because on some level we think that the decision will result in happiness.
Lehi was in a dark and dreary waste. He was feeling depressed and discouraged. Then, he saw a tree with bright fruit. A beacon of hope in a dark world. This fruit, he came to find, brought him exceedingly great joy.
There are times when the world we live in may seem like a “dark and dreary waste.” It can be easy to keep wandering around aimlessly, depressed in the gloom.
But we don’t have to be. There is hope. We can follow Lehi’s example. We can pray. Then, when we do, we can look around and notice the joy that the Savior is offering to us. We can take time to notice the tree of life, and then change the bearings and courses of our lives so that we will be able to partake of it.
Of course, in discussing this metaphor, obtaining the fruit of the tree might be a “life-time quest.” But I think that if we will open our hearts and eyes to it, we have more of it in our lives right now than we realize.
Even now, on a daily basis, how do we invite love, warmth, joy, and light into our lives? We call upon the Lord. We recognize Him. We look forward with hope. Instead of focusing on the dark and dreary waste, we can look to the tree of life with hope in our hearts – knowing that soon we’ll be able to partake of it and experience “exceedingly great joy.”
Today, I’m studying the talk Perfection Pending, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the October 1995 General Conference.
Now that the talks are becoming a bit more recent (I know, still over 20 years ago), I like to think about where I was/how old I was when the talk was given. In October 1995, I would have been starting my junior year of high school, which means that I was in seminary. Which means that I would have watched this talk at the church (back in the day!) with a notebook in hand so that I could get credit for seminary.
Even though I remembered the inoculation/indoctrination concept from the last talk, I don’t remember this talk at all! I knew that would be the case. But I do like the talk.
As you could probably tell from the title of the talk, President Nelson’s address is on the subject of perfection. I really love this talk because it helps to clear up a few misunderstandings that I have had about perfection, and I suspect others have had, too.
President Nelson stated:
“If I were to ask which of the Lord’s commandments is most difficult to keep, many of us might cite Matt. 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”1
Keeping this commandment can be a concern because each of us is far from perfect, both spiritually and temporally. Reminders come repeatedly. We may lock keys inside the car, or even forget where the car is parked. And not infrequently we walk intently from one part of the house to another, only to forget the reason for the errand.
When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life.” – Russell M. Nelson
We have been commanded to be perfect. And this sometimes gets in our heads. I know that often, when I’m facing challenges and frustrations in my life, when I search deep inside of me my frustration seems to center around my perfectionism.
Interestingly enough, I think that perfectionism is actually the bane of being able to keep the command to becoming perfect. In perfectionism, we think that we have to do it on our own – be “perfect.” Whatever that even means. I mean – can we even really describe what “perfection” is? Without blemish? Well, we are born with blemish and imperfection. This is, after all, mortality.
What is perfect – doing something without making a mistake? Well, we learn line upon line, precept upon precept, which means that perfection is not something we will achieve over night – or after the first try.
What is perfect? What is the perfect home? The perfect body? The perfect hair? hahahaha! In this case “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and we must remember that the beholder is heavily influenced by their immediate culture. Today’s “perfect body” looks quite a bit different than the “perfect body” of the renaissance.
We get caught up in what we think that perfection is, and that is why this commandment is so troubling. Thankfully, President Nelson addresses this commandment in a way to bring us both enlightenment and hope. If you are struggling with the concept of perfection, then I encourage you to read it!
Today, I’m going to study a few quotes and concepts I liked from the talk.
One – We Misunderstand the Commandment
President Nelson stated:
“We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips! We also need to remember that the Lord gives no commandments that are impossible to obey. But sometimes we fail to comprehend them fully.” – Russell M. Nelson
I love every sentence in this quote. We aren’t here to have guilt trips.
I’m guilty of the guilt trip!
But seriously, I am. I think that I might have shared this experience before on this blog, but I feel like it is a good time to share it again. Several years ago I was struggling with something – I can’t remember what it was specifically, but it was all just me. I know that it was some kind of “perfectionism” that was making me feel addled and depressed.
One morning, before going out for a run, I said my prayers. I knelt in my closet and “prayed.” I admitted to the Lord that I was sorry – for who I was: too fat, too messy, too forgetful, too quick to scream at my kids…blah blah blah. You know how it goes (maybe…maybe you don’t know how it goes). I prayed for a while, but it was kind of terrible. And after I closed my prayer, I didn’t feel better. I didn’t feel uplifted. I didn’t feel like I had just communed with the Lord.
It was morning, my husband had to get ready for work soon, so I scooted out the door and on my run.
I was still feeling pretty deflated, and I wondered why didn’t I feel better when I said my morning prayers? Why wouldn’t the Holy Ghost comfort me?
Thankfully, Heavenly Father was patient with me. He gently rebuked me. I had this small spiritual impression. It’s hard to put it in words, but the closest I can get is: Because the Holy Ghost will not bear false witness.
All of the terrible things I was saying about myself WERE NOT humility. It was self-loathing. And the Holy Ghost wouldn’t condone any of it. Closing that so-called prayer in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ was a form of using His name in vain. I couldn’t feel good about that “prayer” because it was a lie.
I mean, imagine if I had felt the witness of the Holy Ghost after giving that prayer -that I was indeed too “imperfect” to be loved. Yikes! Yuck! My misunderstanding of the command to be perfect – my confusing that command with “perfectionism” led me to guilt-trips and self-loathing – which are not at all in line with what a God of love will give us.
Two – Mortal Perfection
President Nelson, in his talk, teaches about perfection in two ways: Mortal Perfection and Eternal Perfection. We can think of mortal perfection as a process – where an act can indeed be perfect from time to time. President Nelson gives a few examples:
“In this life, certain actions can be perfected. A baseball pitcher can throw a no-hit, no-run ball game. A surgeon can perform an operation without an error. A musician can render a selection without a mistake. One can likewise achieve perfection in being punctual, paying tithing, keeping the Word of Wisdom, and so on. The enormous effort required to attain such self-mastery is rewarded with a deep sense of satisfaction.” – Russell M. Nelson
Interestingly enough, even in the examples that President Nelson cited, it is hard to recreate and repeat “perfection.” Even the most gifted pitcher cannot throw a no-hitter every time. Even if he masters his art and his craft, over time his shoulder will degrade. He won’t be perfect throughout his whole career. In fact, there will probably only be moments of sublime, perfect brilliance.
A surgeon may perform many surgeries without error, but he won’t perform all of them without error. It just won’t happen. She may be a brilliant surgeon – the best surgeon in her field, but you will still have to sign waivers that you understand the risk of surgery before you get on that table.
A musician may, after much practice, render a selection without mistake. I can understand this. There are songs I can play on the piano with my eyes closed. But then, every once in a while – even with the simplest song, I hit a wrong note.
We can master some things in life, but 100% perfection, even in the things that we can master is not possible. It’s just not how this universe works! In fact, I kind of think of some of these things as parabolic – the pitcher for example. There is an arc to his career. At some point the pitcher might be perfect, but with time our bodies degrade, our minds slow down, and he will reach a peak and then performance will suffer.
Michael Jordan might have been a perfect basketball player. And he might still be good now. But how would he fare in the NBA at this point? Much of mortal perfection is like a parabola.
I realize that there may be exceptions to what I’m writing here. But I feel like it is worth exploring – because I get caught in the “perfectionism” trap. It is worth me remembering that we aren’t always getting better. Sometimes we do, and then sometimes for reasons beyond our control, we don’t “progress” anymore. We reach our zenith and then start to fade. It isn’t a depressing thing. It’s just a fact of life.
President Nelson did describe this as mortal perfection, after all.
Three – Striving and Mortal Perfection
President Nelson stated:
“Scriptures have described Noah, Seth, and Job as perfect men. No doubt the same term might apply to a large number of faithful disciples in various dispensations. Alma said that “there were many, exceedingly great many,” who were pure before the Lord.
This does not mean that these people never made mistakes or never had need of correction. The process of perfection includes challenges to overcome and steps to repentance that may be very painful. There is a proper place for chastisement in the molding of character, for we know that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”
Mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his. If we do the best we can, the Lord will bless us according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts.” – Russell M. Nelson
Now this is interesting.
We just need to do the best that we can. I didn’t ever know Noah, Seth, or Job personally, but when I read that paragraph, I couldn’t help but think of some of the people who I do know.
In fact, my first thought was of a patriarch and his wife that I knew in my last stake. He is a good man, and maybe it would be described of him (AND HIS WIFE!) that they were “perfect.”
He is a simple man, a kind man. He is a barber, a father, a patriarch, a grandfather, a husband, a gardener, a sealer in the temple. Often I would see him on walks with his daughter in town. He isn’t really all that special if you just saw him on the street. In fact, he’s kind of short and plain. You would walk right past him.
He gave both of my daughters patriarchal blessings, and both times he admitted to mistakes that he made – even as the patriarch! All of this to help us understand the magnitude of the blessing that each of my daughters would receive.
Yes he has made mistakes, but he has humbly gone to the Lord to overcome them. He accepts the loving chastening and rebuke of the Lord. He tries, he strives to keep every duty and every law. He is doing the best he can.
Even though it is hard for me to describe anyone as perfect – because of my own ideas of what “perfection” is – based on this description given by President Nelson, the patriarch I just described to you is just that.
Which means, maybe a lot of us are, too.
NOTE: this does not mean that we do not need the Atonement! It is the striving and the Atonement that perfects us! I think that maybe it just means we can have more confidence in the Lord!
One more thing – this quote also makes me think of the nature of all mankind – including the Savior – we learn line upon line, precept upon precept. Perfection is a process. It isn’t something we will do out of the gates. Over time the patriarch from our old stake has become more and more of a perfect person. This is not because he is just magical or talented. It is because he has allowed the Lord to work a process in him that has taken years.
The Lord will work this in all of us. If we will strive and do our part, then the the Lord will teach us line upon line, precept upon precept. He will refine us, prune us, purify us. And then, over time, we will be something good and worthy to be called “perfect.”
Maybe if we just remember that it is a process, we won’t get so wrapped up in the frustration of not being perfect yet. If we remember it is a process, we will trust God as He guides, teaches, and perfects us.
Four – Teleios
It is helpful for us to remember that the Bible was written a long time ago. In fact, Jesus uttered His command in Matthew 5:8 – to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect – over 2,000 years ago.
Think about that for a second. 2,000 years ago. In Jerusalem. He said it, most likely, in his language, which I’m guessing was Hebrew. Not sure how He said it. The New Testament, we know was written in Greek.
And the Greek of the New Testament was 2,000 year-ago-Greek, not necessarily what they speak today. For my purposes, I like to remind myself – they weren’t speaking English! It wasn’t 21st century American English! This was a different time. It might be helpful for me to suspend what I think that perfect means based on today’s sensibilities and culture. It might be helpful to think of what the Savior meant by this declaration, rather than what I think it means based on my current circumstances.
President Nelson taught:
“Recently I studied the English and Greek editions of the New Testament, concentrating on each use of the term perfect and its derivatives. Studying both languages together provided some interesting insights, since Greek was the original language of the New Testament.
In Matt. 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios,which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.” The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.” Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words.” – Russell M. Nelson
Don’t you love this! to reach a distant end. To be fully developed. To consummate. To finish.
And to be sure that we understand, President Nelson reiterates – it does NOT imply “freedom from error” but achieving a distant objective.
That takes some of the IMPOSSIBLE pressure off of us. When I think of reaching a distant end, being fully developed, etc. Then I think again of the patriarch that I wrote about earlier. He is headed toward that development, that end that the Lord wants all of us to reach. He is on the path to perfection. Not because he is free from error, but because I think that when our Patriarch from Midway completes his sojourn on earth he will have achieved his distant objective.
We can do this, too.
In fact, when I think about perfection this way, I think of so many other people, too. I think of my grandma. I think of my mom. I think of my dear friends and examples. I think of the women I’ve known and been friends with that have experienced trials and faithfully navigated through those trials. I think of women who have achieved mortal perfection in various ways (like making pies, for example – which I believe is probably one of the best things to achieve mortal perfection in!), and yet they are striving, moving forward, they will achieve that distant objective.
When I think of perfection this way, I get excited! I am hopeful. I am inspired to keep on walking, striving, and learning line upon line, here a little and there a little.
Five – We Need the Savior
All that I have already written is based on an assumption – we need a Savior. Without the Savior, we have no real hope for either mortal or eternal perfection. Without a Savior, there is no purpose in striving. There is no purpose in endurance. Because, without a Savior, no matter how disciplined we are, we would never be able to reach the distant end; to achieve the distant objective.
We Need an Atonement. And Christ offers it to us. President Nelson taught:
“Moroni taught how to gain this glorious objective [to be a perfect]. His instruction stands in any age as an antidote for depression and a prescription for joy. I echo his plea: “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; … love God with all your might, mind and strength … [Then] ye may be perfect in Christ, … holy, [and] without spot.” – Russell M. Nelson
We come unto Christ – first in the waters of baptism. And after that, our striving, our choice to make AND KEEP covenants, our weekly renewal of these covenants are all ways that we come unto Christ. As we progress on the path that He lays out before us, we are coming unto Him. We don’t have to master anything in a day, week, or year. We have a lifetime to do our best – by taking one slow step at a time. As Nephi taught:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” – 2 Nephi 31:20
Six – Chin Up!
It’s nice to study a talk about perfection and not feel overwhelmed, depressed, and discouraged. I feel stoked! I feel happy! I feel like I can actually do this! I feel like there are loads of people who have actually done this.
President Nelson taught:
“We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments.” – Russell M. Nelson
Yes, the path toward perfection and eternal life are “arduous.” I’m struck by the description of those who partook of the tree of life in Lehi’s dream:
“But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” – 1 Nephi 8:30 (emphasis added)
Our distant objective is distant. It will require work and repeated, daily effort. In fact, when we reach the end, I think that we’ll probably be like those in described above – we will fall down and finally partake of the proverbial tree of life.
But we’ll make it! We will partake! We will be perfected in Christ! We will reach that distant objective!
We can let this hope propel us forward during difficult times. And we can ignore the temptation of Satan – who wants us to misunderstand the commandment to be perfect, thinking it is just impossible.
I’m grateful to know that we are led by a prophet who understands the commandments of God – regarding perfection. I know that misunderstanding this command is a subtle way that Satan tries to knock us off the path of perfection and joy. I’m grateful to know that President Nelson not only understands these commands but teaches us in a gentle and hopeful way. I’m grateful for living apostles and prophets who can help us to understand the mysteries of God.
I’ve heard it said over and over again, “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” I understand the concept behind the adage. But I think that I’m less and less of a believer of it.
Today, in sacrament meeting, we sang the following:
“When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliverance is nigh.
We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness,
We’ve proved Him in days that are past.” – We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet
About four years ago, Homey and I started our own business. Starting your own business is not for the faint of heart. Both Homey and I, when we started it, knew that it would push us right to the very edge – past anything we have ever experienced. Simultaneously, we knew that we could trust God, and that we would be fine. There would definitely be times when things didn’t feel fine, but we could trust that we were okay.
This thought came the exact instant I told Homey, “it’s time to quit your job and be serious about the business.” Both my own spirit and the Comforter were aligned on this – I knew this instinctually, in my gut, in my Spirit and because of the Spirit – we needed to devote more time to the business. I knew that we needed to take the risk, have Homey quit his job, and focus our efforts 100% on the business. I knew, the Spirit gave me a deep impression that now was our chance – and that if we didn’t take it, there might not be another “right time for it.”
We went to the temple, we referred to our patriarchal blessings. And we knew that this was not only something we wanted to do, but perhaps a part of the work we should perform in this life. It would enable us to be the kind of people God sees in us, and it would enable us to do the work that He would expect of us.
And, thank goodness for the Comforter – even while Homey was still employed with a very secure job that gave us a very secure lifestyle – I knew that we would be pushed right to our limit. And I also felt overwhelming comfort, “You’ll be pushed to your limit, but you will be delivered. You know the pattern – the Lord delivers when your back is at the wall.”
(But He doesn’t deliver us before our backs are to the wall).
That was four years ago. Since then, Homey and I have been working, working, working. We have lived off of savings. We have sold our house. We have moved to Hawai’i, to the mainland – the intermountain west, and then to the East Coast. We have sold nearly all of our belongings (everything we own fits in a small portion of my in-law’s basement – for a family of six!). We own no couches, bookshelves, or dishes. We have had an amazing ride. We have been blessed by the Lord.
And we have been stretched.
At one point along the ride, a well-meaning individual said, “Well, you know – you have to hope for the best, but expect the worst.”
I smiled, and was grateful for the concern. I nodded my head, but I didn’t agree. And the idea has been ruminating in the back of my head for months.
In First Nephi, within the first chapters of the Book of Mormon, we read Nephi’s courageous declaration:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” – 1 Nephi 3:7
Hope for the best, and expect the worst? Not really. Nephi didn’t “hope” that he would obtain the plates. No, he was committed to obtaining the plates. He tried once and twice – lost his entire family’s inheritance, and nearly lost his life. Then he finally entered into the gates of Jerusalem – armed only with the Spirit and with no plan at all. Perhaps the chain of events didn’t happen as he had expected, but his primary expectation and his hope were aligned – He would obtain the plates. No plan B. No other option. That was that. He would obtain the plates or die trying.
Now, maybe you’re wondering, “Well, Nephi was commanded.” Let’s look at another example.
We have a record – in the Book of Ether – of a group of people that originated from Babel, during the time that the Lord confused their languages. One family – Jared’s family and his brothers – prayed to the Lord that they would be able to communicate with each other. So, Jared had his brother – who was highly favored of the Lord – pray to spare their family.
And the Lord did.
Then, Jared asked his brother the following:
“And it came to pass that Jared spake again unto his brother, saying: Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.” – Ether 1:38.
So – Jared’s brother decides to ask God to drive them out of the land – and perhaps to a promised land. The Lord has compassion. He gives Jared’s brother some instructions, then makes the following promise:
“…And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.
And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And thereshall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.” – Ether 1:42-43
Unlike Nephi and his family, Jared and his brethren were not commanded to flee Babel. They had a righteous desire, they asked the Lord, and the Lord granted accordingly (Ask and ye shall receive…). They would have to do a lot of work, they would travel across the entire world – from Babel to the Americas. But the Lord would grant them according to their prayers.
It would push them right to their limits, but they didn’t have to worry because it would work.
Hope for the best and expect the worst??? NO! Plan B? Plan C? NOOOO! There is one plan! It is to do what God will have us do! There is one expectation – that the Lord’s will will come to pass, and that his promises are sure, that hope isn’t some silly thing that kids do, but that it will anchor our faith by giving us vision.
Imagine that you are walking along the iron rod, toward the tree of life. Do you say, “Well, I’m hoping that I will make it to the tree of life, but I don’t expect it. In fact, I expect that I will wander off on a strange road and get lost – the worst possible outcome.” Do you say, “I’ll hope for the best, but expect the worst,” as if you are an agent to be acted upon, rather than an agent to act – empowered by the infinite grace of God???
I will admit that many, many times in my life I have said, “I won’t get my hopes up.” There is a glimmer of an opportunity, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. I don’t want to be disappointed, so I kind of ignore them. Of course, I’m sure you can guess because I expected the worst, I received the worst.
And I’m learning that hope – it isn’t some kind of silly thing. True hope is a facet of faith. It will make an anchor for us so that we succeed. Hope will help us put one foot in front of the other. Hope will give us the vision to find opportunities when our backs are against the wall and every resource appears to be exhausted. Hope gives us the courage to walk into a dark city at night, on an errand from the Lord, with nothing but the Spirit to guide and protect us. Hope gives us the audacity to go to the Lord and ask him for the blessings that He is willing to grant us but can’t until we ask for them.
Hope is how we cheerfully submit to all of the will of God – enduring anything that is thrown before us, knowing that our expectations – deliverance and success – are sure because He Is Sure.
Yesterday, I was on the phone with my sister when she said, “Oh my gosh. Catania. Did you hear about what happened in Boston? At the Boston Marathon?”
“No. What’s up?”
“It was bombed.”
I couldn’t believe it. I went to the computer and found a news story. Instantly, my heart ached for the people who were suffering and worrying. My dad works in Boston, and I have to admit that I was happy to remember that he was out of town. Then, I started thinking about the race. A few years ago, I ran a marathon in Baltimore, MD. I have to say, the event was amazing. There were thousands of people lined up in the streets, running…running for their health, running because they are competitive, running to honor passed friends, running to raise money for diseases. It seemed to me that every person out there was running for a good reason. Most people who run a marathon won’t come close to winning, but they’re still there–happy to run. Running a marathon is about discipline, mental toughness, physical exertion, and accomplishment. It’s really amazing.
When I thought of Boston, I thought of all the people-who in one second were reveling in the denouement of months of training. Then, the next second, they were afraid for their lives. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
I don’t understand terrorists. I don’t understand how people could be filled with so much hate and anger. I don’t understand the darkness of a soul that would choose to hurt so many people at random. It honestly makes no logical sense to me. Why can’t we let happy people be happy? Why is it that there are so many people who want to pull others down rather than build each other up? My mind aches when I think of those who have been hurt.
This Boston situation isn’t all, either. It seems like there is always something horrible happening. School shootings. Bombings. Drug Wars. Kidnapping. Child Abuse. I could go on, but I won’t. We already know it all.
Today, I went on a run/hike in the trails near my home. It was a gloriously beautiful morning. I had been thinking of those in Boston as I began my own ascent into the hills. It felt good to breathe hard, to feel my thighs sting, as I climbed. I prayed for a while as I ran. Then, listened to a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf – The Hope of God’s Light. I felt especially touched by this quote:
“There may be some among you who feel darkness encroaching upon you. You may feel burdened by worry, fear, or doubt. To you and to all of us, I repeat a wonderful and certain truth: God’s light is real. It is available to all! It gives life to all things.1 It has the power to soften the sting of the deepest wound. It can be a healing balm for the loneliness and sickness of our souls. In the furrows of despair, it can plant the seeds of a brighter hope. It can enlighten the deepest valleys of sorrow. It can illuminate the path before us and lead us through the darkest night into the promise of a new dawn.”
I experienced a bit of an object lesson as I listened to this talk. I walked up the mountain, in the shadows. The hike caused me to breathe heavily. I was getting goosebumps as a breeze blew past me. Yet, I knew that there was light on the other side. As long as I kept walking, I’d soon catch my breath and bask in the sun.
And I did.
Step by step, I climbed the mountain, and soon saw the amazing view of the valley, including the temple in the distance.
Despite the horrible things that happen in this world – whether they are natural disasters or things that we do to one another, I was filled with warmth as I remembered that God loves us. As we seek Him and our Savior, our hearts can be filled with hope even during the darkest times. While we mourn those who are victims – in Boston and elsewhere – we can also be comforted by Christ: His light, His life, His Resurrection. He is our hope.
Listen to this talk by President Uchtdorf…it will lift your spirits.
Two years ago, a friend of mine, and my best friend’s older brother lost his battle.
He had most likely suffered from bi-polar disorder or another mental illness without ever getting it officially diagnosed. Instead, he was trapped by stigmas and self-medication. Unfortunately, his situation became so dire, he felt that the best option, his only option, was death. He took his life two years ago.
With his decision, there have been a host of mixed emotions. Anger, frustration, sadness, despair. It seems like when someone dies of suicide, it is harder to find hope. I don’t pretend to have any answers to this problem. However, this is helpful:
“Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. . . . Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course” – Bruce R. McConkie
As far as my own experience – with Matt, and my friend Steph, and their family. I know them, and I’ve known them for many years. I know that Matt was a good guy with some serious difficulties. His difficulties were no different than having a heart problem or kidney disease. It was a real problem, left untreated. If we leave high blood pressure untreated, the risk is death. If we leave diabetes untreated, the risk is death. If we ignore the symptoms of high blood pressure or diabetes, and continue doing the things that would exacerbate the problems, then the risk is death. Depression, bi-polar disorder, and other mental disorders are no different. If Mental illnesses are left untreated, the risk is dire. If we ignore the symptoms of mental disorder and continue doing the things that will exacerbate the problem, then we are at grave risk. Matt is an unfortunate example of this.
I know that the gospel offers hope. I am not a neuroscientist or doctor, but I think that there is a connection between choosing the right and general mental health. In Alma, we learn
“And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.” – Alma 41:11
I know that depression isn’t as simple as choosing the right. I have suffered from depression. I have suffered, especially, from post-partum depression. I know that it is difficult to control. I also know that as we seek to be closer to God, then we are on the track to happiness. We may not have these happy-go-lucky days. Things may be hard, but when we exercise faith in the Lord, and when we do what is necessary to become whole (priesthood blessings, therapy, even medication), then we will eventually obtain the happiness we desire.
I love this quote by Elder Packer,
“It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out. There is great purpose in our struggle in life.” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1978
I have to admit, sometimes I forget that. It is easy to think, especially as members of the church – people who believe in a plan of happiness, that we should always be happy. However, we must remember that we do face challenging times. Not only is this life difficult, but our bodies are not perfected. We have hormones, we may have chemical imbalances, and who knows how some of the things we put in our bodies effect our delicate hormonal systems. There are various reasons we may get a little depressed or anxious.
It is good to remember that a hard day, or even a series of them is relatively normal. We shouldn’t self-medicate, but we should look to the Lord. If things feel like they are too much to handle, we should seek appropriate help. We can be happy. Heavenly Father wants us to be happy. His nature is happiness. He can guide us to a happy life.
My friend wrote a really great post about her experience. Please, check it out here. You can also check out a very good podcast about families who have experienced suicide here. If you know someone who is suffering, please take it seriously. If you have been a survivor of someone who committed suicide, I hope that you can find comfort.