Not An Obedient Heart

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For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.  ~Doctrine & Covenants 46: 11-12

I’m pretty sure we forget that not everyone receives all the same gifts from God. And even more importantly, I’m pretty sure we tend to forget that they are GIFTS and that we don’t actually do anything to earn many of blessings we enjoy. At least, I am pretty sure of this each Sunday after church.

Week after week, I sit in church. (Okay, most weeks. My family policy is that we take one Sunday a month off of church for other family time—usually that ends up being the first Sunday, or Open Mic Day. When you have a kid with autism, you make allowances where you have to, and this is one that saved my sanity.) So while I am sitting, even though it’s been fifteen years, I still mostly hear the talks and sermons through my convert ears.

I spend a lot of time cringing and being very grateful that my non-member family isn’t present. Week after week, I hear well-intentioned people talk about others with a level of tone-deafness that is embarrassing. Mormons don’t hold a corner on the market of people who love their children, their families, and their country. Mormons aren’t the only ones who value hard work, honesty, and community. It doesn’t take a temple marriage to have a faithful marriage. The world, despite the pet-notions of some very vocal members, is not a seething pit of sin and iniquity. Most people are good. Many people are kind. Even Republicans.

But even worse that the tone-deafness and the contortions needed to pat ourselves on the back for not being of the world (whatever that means on any given Sunday), the part that leaves me heading to the foyer (or my car) is the often-expressed idea that we are given blessings because we have earned them.

This is blasphemy.

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God…to others it is given to believe on their words…to some is given the word of wisdom…to another is given the word of knowledge…to some it is given to have faith to be healed…to others it is given to have faith to heal…to some is given the working of miracles…to others it is given to prophesy…to others the discerning of spirits…all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.

~ from D&C 46: 13-26

Scripture is pretty clear all of these are gifts from God. A gift is not something we have done any earthly thing to earn. To claim otherwise turns God into the proverbial gumball machine, and turns ourselves in the grantor of blessings. I’m not interested in a transactional relationship with God.

By some matrices, I’m a pretty terrible Mormon. We’re laissez faire about Family Night, and even worse about family scripture study. One of my kids refuses to go to seminary after the teacher insisted the OT be taken as literal history. We live fairly close to a temple, but attend sporadically because we hate traffic. I’m a terrible missionary; I haven’t converted anyone in my family and I don’t intend to even try. Clearly, one of the gifts I wasn’t given was an obedient heart. My husband will verify that. (It turns out not having an obedient heart is also a gift—go figure! I couldn’t have survived what my life has thrown at me with a complacent heart that was malleable to obedience. God knows what we need, even if others don’t see those blessings.)

But here’s the thing: I have been showered with loving gifts from my Heavenly Father. I don’t have a temple marriage because I chose modest clothes and studied my scriptures. I have a temple marriage because I met a very good man who shared my viewpoint and whose own heart was big enough to encompass an unconventional family outside of the typical Mormon paradigm. I don’t have children because I chose modest clothes and have FHE. I have children because the gift of biology allowed my body to produce healthy babies in the narrow window I was granted. I don’t have an education because I was more faithful than my neighbor; I have an education because I worked hard and the hands of my community literally lifted me so I could cross the finish line.

To believe I am in control of the blessings of my life through transactions with the Lord is to denigrate the other children of God whose lives have not afforded them the same opportunities I have enjoyed simply by virtue of birth. I did nothing to earn those blessings—they are a gift, there but for the grace of God.

The obligation therefore rests heavily upon me—and those of you reading this frustrated yell into the internet void—to reach out and do even more to help my brothers and sisters; in my neighborhood, in my state, in my country, and in the world.

Patting ourselves on the back for things we did nothing to earn is an affront to the Body of Christ, of which every person on earth is a member. To quote my favorite airplane pilot, “STOP IT.”

Comments

  1. Amen, and amen. Too many vain repetitions from our pulpits, uttered by people devoid of any awareness of their extraordinarily good fortune.

    If we all got what we deserved, we would be working 12-hour days in dark Satanic mills and then trudging home to shantytowns. The fact that we don’t has very little to do with any of our individual efforts.

  2. Amen.
    To avoid getting bogged down in absolutes, I will sometimes concede to the benefits of working hard and making smart choices. I can easily make the case that less than 20% of where I am is due to my efforts, and 80% or more is blessings or luck, even measuring from the incredibly rich endowment of being born as a white male in a developed country in the 20th century. If the latter is all included in a “right place right time” blessing then the percentages are more like 0.1% and 99.9%.

  3. I may have vented a screed on the inadequacy of obedience (laced with the phrase “Nuremberg Defense”) to the general bewilderment of my high priests’ group a few weeks back. We Mormons need to read Romans. Badly.

  4. rachelmcphail says:

    Amen. Not to mention so much of what I have is do to the hard work of those that came before me. They lived a HARD life. They went without necessities. Me? Not so much.

  5. Jason K, I think I would have loved your screed. Today the Elders Quorum Presidency had each of us introduce ourselves. As the lone HP in attendance, I explained that last week in HP group I had been alternately bored and irritated. The Elders Quorum Presidency promptly declared the quorum a “sanctuary quorum.” BTW, I was neither bored nor irritated.

  6. Ha! I love the idea of a sanctuary quorum!

  7. “The world, despite the pet-notions of some very vocal members, is not a seething pit of sin and iniquity. Most people are good. Many people are kind. Even Republicans.” In our ward it is even Democrats, or shudder, liberals.

  8. Sometimes we need to re-read Helaman 12 and remember he’s talking to us..not “the world”.

  9. If I had to guess, this notion gets its most direct support from D&C 130

    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    I like the ideas from JKC (https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/08/15/the-pride-cycle-the-prosperity-gospel-and-grace/) that it is Christ’s obedience that unlocks that door, and therefore it is only by his grace that any blessings reign down on us.

    But most LDS folks would read “we obtain…by obedience” as “we obtain…by (our) obedience.” I doubt most have even considered there might be a different reading.

  10. Aussie Mormon says:

    All blessings are gifts*, but not all blessings are “gifts of the spirit”.

    *Mosiah 2:22-24 talks about how the Lord blesses us for keeping the commandments, but then we have been paid for the good things we did, so we are still in His debt.

  11. Great, post, Tracy. God blesses us because he loves us, and his love is miraculous because it is undeserved. If it were earned, it could hardly be called love.

  12. Jason K: I think we Mormons DO read Romans badly, alas–when we read Romans at all.

  13. Tracy, I’m with you on the most part, when you mention “gifts,” but then you mention “blessings” and I have to disagree somewhat: I think a direct reading of D&C 130:20-21 is as valid as bbytheway’s above, especially when you read a the two preceding verses. I don’t think God blessing someone for their obedience makes him a giant gumball machine any more than you rewarding your child’s obedience makes one out of you. You can reward you child because you love her, and because she was obedient.

  14. “The world, despite the pet-notions of some very vocal members, is not a seething pit of sin and iniquity. Most people are good. Many people are kind.” Agreed. They don’t have to be LDS. Those people are also being blessed for the same reasons, because God loves them and they are good and obedient to good principles.

  15. Blessings are not always rewards, though. In fact, that are almost never rewards. When they are, they are undeserved rewards.

  16. JKC, true that. I think there are many blessings that are not deserved and you just say, phew, that was a blessing! I don’t begrudge God rewarding obedience But I don’t know if any are truly deserved, none are without Christ’s grace, And then there are some that are a natural consequence of actions, and some are a combination, such as Tracy’s “I have an education because I worked hard and the hands of my community literally lifted me so I could cross the finish line.” She was also given the gift of a sharp and expressive intellect, which we all benefit from.

  17. I suggest reading 1 Corinthians 12 and thinking about the verse that tells us to seek earnestly every good gift. Seeking implies some kind of behavior, and the reception of those gifts may actually be partially due to something we have done (i.e. seeking). I personally think this life is intended to be more of a partnership with God and Christ. Yes, it’s true that we don’t give ourselves blessings… we are granted them by Him. However, our actions and behaviors do matter, and we do receive consequences for every action, including the seeking of gifts and obedience to commandments. We are instructed to be disciples of Christ not only to bless others but because we will receive blessings ourselves. Consider the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments of God. They are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual. See Mosiah 2:41.

    I also suggest considering when people cringe because the person sitting behind them in sacrament meeting smells of alcohol or bad perfume, both of which have happened to me on multiple occasions. Would we be embarrassed to say that we are being driven away or embarrassed by those people? I think so. I think it’s pretty socially unacceptable to be critical of people in that case. Why is it, then, that we are a bit more generous when people are being critical of other people who are sharing their feelings from the pulpit? I’m not saying that their wording doesn’t matter. It does. But I am saying that these articles calling people out for being grateful for blessings and not recognizing from whence they come can sound a bit to me like being critical about someone who comes to church smelling of alcohol. The “sin” is just different.

  18. Nobody is saying that our actions don’t matter or that there aren’t consequences to actions. Seeking gifts is a good thing, but it does not mean earning blessings; it means trying to do your best to please God so that he showers you with his love. It is fundamentally different from believing that you’ve earned the gift and are entitled to it. And it does not require you to believe that those who haven’t been obedient won’t be blessed, nor that those that aren’t blessed in certain visible ways are not as obedient as those who have been blessed in those ways.

  19. …it does not mean earning blessings; it means trying to do your best to please God so that he showers you with his love. It is fundamentally different from believing that you’ve earned the gift and are entitled to it.

    Bingo, JKC.

  20. Amen & amen. I also love the idea of taking off Open Mic Day. (That’s not the only thing I got out of this article.)

  21. Thank you Cardine. I agree. Also with Bro. B’s comments.

    Doesn’t the scripture teach us that there were laws irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world and whenever we receive any blessing from God it is because of our obedience to the law on which THAT blessing is predicated?
    And aren’t we taught that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust? Therefore, he blesses those seeking Him and those ignoring Him.
    Two opposing ideas but both true in their own time and place.

    I do believe some blessings have to be earned. And who ever equated having a good marriage with modest clothes and scripture study? The law on which this blessing is predicated, according to the scripture, is long suffering, love unfeigned, all that charity stuff. Perhaps the problem is that people, maybe you, maybe others at church, are tieing the wrong behavior to the reward sought. Perhaps, they are twisting the words of the scriptures to coerce behavior they are trying to encourage, such as modest dress, but not really teaching the Gospel correctly. Knowing the Gospel goes a long way toward recognizing and then dismissing false teachings. (Please point out where in the scriptures are we promised that having FHE and dressing modestly leads to the power to conceive. I have never seen that teaching in my scriptures.)

    Also, just because someone lacks blessings in this life does not mean they did not earn them or are not worthy of them. I believe God sometimes withholds great blessings from individuals in order to refine them in some specific way or to free them from the demands of that blessing in order to have more time and energy to focus on something else. Perhaps some time consuming work they are needed for that keeps them from having children or marrying. Perhaps wealth is withheld because it is both a blessing and a sometimes time and energy sucking burden. Perhaps they chose ill health because they felt they personally needed the refinement it could provide and no amount of faithfulness to the Word of Wisdom will allow them to run and not be weary in this life. But for many of us, obedience to that law has allowed God to bless us with much better health than if we had not been obedient to it. A blessing we earn through obedience.

    As for spiritual gifts, yes, they are gifts, sought for through prayer, according to the Book of Mormon. We cannot earn those, except by seeking them. But as Oliver Cowdery was taught, seeking the gift of translation was not easy or simple. It required work and effort and knowledge of how to seek the gift he wanted. He needed God’s instruction and then he needed to do the work before the gift of translation could be his. I believe it is so with many of the gifts of the Spirit. If it were not, most priesthood holders laying hands on the heads of the sick, would immediately heal them, because I believe they want to possess the gift of healing and many have probably asked God for it. But Joseph Smith taught the men in his time, and President Packer reiterated the teaching, we do not often possess this gift. Joseph told the men of his time to stop laying hands on people’s heads and go out and obtain the gift so they could really heal those they blessed. President Packer stated that we have been far more successful in distributing the authority of the priesthood than we have the power of the priesthood.

    We are missing something in our teaching or our understanding or our behavior. And I am uncertain of what it might be.

  22. Melanie1262 says:

    I have recently redefined “Blessings” in my own mind so as to allow God to be fair (also non coercive) and to keep me from developing a superiority complex. Blessings, I believe, are simply the experiences that connect us to God. At times they may be the beautiful, pleasant, wondrous joys of mortality that make me want to sing “How Great Thou Art!”; at other times they may be the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, anger-inducing moments that make me cry out, “Where Art Thou?” Either way I’m connecting to God. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). God invites us to know [Them], to feel with [Them], i.e., have compassion with [Them]. Thus, every experience I have (directly or indirectly) that turns me to God is a blessing. Viewing blessings in this manner has helped me overcome the fallacies that only good things come from God and that if bad things happen, I (or “somebody”) must have done something wrong; or that “I must have done something good” (if I am still enjoying electricity after the hurricane and my house didn’t get flooded). This view also preserves agency and doesn’t make God manipulative…. As for spiritual gifts, I think they are given by Grace to allow us to be God’s answers to prayers.

  23. “I believe God sometimes withholds great blessings from individuals in order to refine them in some specific way or to free them from the demands of that blessing in order to have more time and energy to focus on something else.” This line of thinking (and I’m not trying to go after the poster, as I’ve heard this any number of times at church and seen it plenty on the bloggernacle) seems like a huge privilege to me. A way for someone who has wealth (or whatever the great blessing may be) to feel comfortable in having something that the person next to them does not.

    So the reason I’m financially stable but the devout, righteous woman next to me at church is not (she’s 70 and desperately searching for work to keep from losing her apartment) is because God is trying to refine her? I don’t think so.

  24. ReTx, Barb Jones said “sometimes”. I think the person in the midst of the trial might more appropriately judge how the trial is affecting her than an outsider could. King Benjamin distinctly taught us that to judge another as having caused the trial they are facing and to refuse to help, is terribly unrighteous. So don’t feel privilege, feel a call to share your blessings. How could we learn to share if each received the same blessings?
    I personally have missed out on some of the “essential” blessings of life, ones without which no one is ever seen as a success in the Church. It was hard and it remains so. But doing without allowed me to accomplish work the Holy Ghost specifically told me I had agreed to perform in the pre-mortal world. So, in reality, I see myself as privileged, just privileged differently than others around me.
    I have heard the voice of God, not just received a sense of peace. I have seen physical miracles performed by God in my behalf, both to protect me and to provide the help I needed to accomplish my tasks. I have even seen visions. Should I feel uncomfortable because of this, when so many I know at Church have missed these blessings? I am sorry, but I will not participate in the guilt that is supposed to accompany any difference in the life circumstances of people. Instead I choose to use my blessings to help others. And if I can teach them how to seek these very blessings, I will feel even more privileged when everyone experiences these things.
    I had an experience once where I was offered a tremendous opportunity, one I had worked for years to obtain. Heavenly Father told me to turn it down and instead to do something else, something I really did not want to do. It was very hard. Years later I had a chance to visit the place where I would have gone and see exactly what the situation was that I had turned down. And this is where I tell that I realized it was not what I had imagined. No, this is not where I tell you that. The place and situation was everything I had ever dreamed of. I felt like I had been hit with a sledgehammer.
    I forced myself to sit down on the hill overlooking my paradise and to review my life since that time. I knew if I did not, I would never get over the sense of loss. Yes, the losses were real, but the faith I gained by following the Lord’s request opened up opportunities that would not have existed if I had not gained that faith. Everything I wanted was in the blessing I left on the table. I walked away from an entire lifetime of wealth and status and opportunity. I still wanted what I had turned down. Of course I did.
    But blessings I did not even know were possible to anyone, let alone available to me, became real because I followed what God asked.
    Do not assume that God’s greatest blessings are visible to those looking on. They are often hidden. They seldom resemble what the world values and are often not even what righteous Church members settle for.

  25. JJ – That is lovely.

    The only thing I’d argue with is that the person in the midst of the trial is the best person to know the purpose of their trials. The human brain is notoriously bad at understanding/explaining its own experiences (really, really, really bad). Creating reason for trials is a popular (and understandable) thing to do, even when most of what happens in life is the result of accident, coincidence, or choice.

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