M. Miles is the busy mother of 3 living in the bay area. She often comments around the ‘nacle as mami. I also feel the need to note that this was written prior to her hearing Elder Bednar’s talk on Sunday. Great minds…
When my sister was about 12, a girl in our ward whom we knew fairly well became pregnant. She was fifteen. Upon finding this out, my sister went to my mother and said with great alarm, “Oh no! Now J. is going to hell!” My mother looked at her quite puzzled and, in all earnestness and seriousness, asked, “Where did you get that idea?” or maybe it was, “Why do you think that?”
As the discussion ensued, it became quite clear that somehow my sister had not internalized the repentance and atonement discussions at family home evening. They continued the discussion at great length. It seems of all the children in my family able to understand what was going on at the time, only one of us was worried that J. was going to hell. We all felt bad for her, understood it was sad–but none of us but one thought she was doomed to eternal torment. Yes, I am certain my sister’s youth had something to do with it, but even then there were younger siblings who understood a little better. Rest assured I am not faulting her.
My point is that we can all experience the same church and family spiritual lessons, and perceive them differently. We experience the spirit differently, and it teaches us what we need to know, or are ready to know at the time. (hence we understand scripture differently at different times, etc). But sometimes we just miss the lessons we are supposed to be learning entirely. Maybe it isn’t because the message is wrong, or because the messenger is not a good messenger —but is because of the condition of our hearts at that moment in time. Jesus said:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (Matt 7:3-4)
When it comes to our perceptions of the church and of doctrine, often we accuse the message or the messenger of having a mote obstructing visions of the truth. But maybe the reality is that we have a beam in our own eyes. If we could really see everything clearly as the Savior does, then there would be a lot fewer motes–or accusations, because there would be less spiritual visual obstruction of our own.
Often times in the great expanding universe of the Bloggernacle, often times in our lives, and often times sitting in church we may get annoyed or offended at a speaker or a message. Too often we don’t point the finger at ourselves and ask what it is about our state of spirit that makes us come to a certain conclusion. Blanket attitudes like, “I’m mad at the church,” should be a red flag. Blanket attitudes like “All is well in Zion,” should be too.
But I argue that most often offense is not given, but only received. And when it comes to doctrines and when it comes to leadership, how we interpret and receive the message and the messenger has everything to do with us and the condition of our hearts and little (if anything) to do with the message or the messenger. My sister understood the law of chastity and sin and the whole plan of salvation as “If you fornicate, you go to hell.” But just because she perceived that as what was being taught, didn’t mean that that was being taught. So when we perceive the church as being hateful, bigoted, anti-gay, sexist, out-of-touch, it doesn’t meant it is. It simply means that is how we perceive it to be. And clearly, there are many different perceptions in (and out of ) the church.
Unfortunately, we only have our own life experience to go on–and our own perceptions are based on how we have acted and been acted upon; or in other words by what we have chosen to do, and what people and the circumstances of mortality have done unto us. But because of the atonement, men became free to act “for themselves and not to be acted upon” (2 Ne 2:27). Although great leaders can foster warm-fuzzy feelings about church and community and help us develop a testimony, our testimony is our own. We are responsible for it, not our Bishop, and not our parents. And although poor leadership can leave hurt feelings and deep offenses and anger in our souls–we ourselves are responsible for those thoughts and feelings as well.
The reality is that there are people and leaders in the church who are bigoted, sexist, arrogant, both hateful and hurtful, and (gasp) make bad decisions and give poor counsel. But surely none of this is what the Savior has in mind. If we learn to live as Christ lived, we will be secure in our understanding of the gospel, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” (2 Ne 28:30).
Finally, we must choose to believe and take responsibility for our own belief and conversely our own unbelief. “O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your cheart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.” (Mormon 9:27)
Simply put, we should give each other the benefit of a doubt.