Driving home from church, I tried not to cry. By the time I got home, I was sobbing. Our ward conference theme had emphasized our Church doctrine of perfection. And the analogy the stake presidency had used in their talks was painfully effective: A plane crashed into a mountain killing everyone aboard. The crash occurred because the pilots’ calculations were off course by only two degrees. Thus, if we as Church members live our lives just two degrees off course….well….you get the idea. During that meeting, I reviewed my life. Yep, I was two degrees off course alright. So was my husband and kids. True, as a youth I had stayed out of trouble and married in the temple at age 21. My two oldest kids had served missions. And my two youngest kids were presently serving missions at the same time. None of it mattered. All I could think about was those two degrees. I didn’t fault the stake presidency for my anxiety; they had spoken eternal truths. Thankfully, personal prayer brought me back to reality (and sanity) within a couple of days. A loving God reminded me of Christ’s atonement along with two words (as a counter weight to the “two degrees”): hope and grace.
My last post discussed the emotional and spiritual growth available through the “Twelve Step” recovery program. Although designed for addiction, the Twelve Steps is applicable to us all. Who hasn’t, at one time or another, struggled to some degree with compunctions or compulsions and/or addictive thought and behavioral patterns? None of us are immune. As I said earlier, the first of the Twelve Steps invokes us to get honest with ourselves in regard to our own limitations. We cannot heal ourselves without Christ’s grace and atonement. Our works alone just can’t cut it. (Yes, we tell ourselves this, but I imagine few of us live day in day out, fully aware of and basking in Christ’s illuminating grace. I sure didn’t–I was too busy obsessing over my works.) Once we sincerely get real, we’re ready for the Second Step’s key principle: HOPE. It says, Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health (“LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program,” p. 7). My relentless focus on my imperfections eclipsed my hope–too often dismissing myself as a hopeless case.
Addicts are trapped in this same mindset: “Those of us who believed in God were convinced He was too disappointed in us to help” (LDS Family Services, p. 7). Do you feel the same way? No other mindset has impeded my emotional and spiritual progress as much as this one has. I spent years in prayer and scripture study before I finally understood this. The writings and lectures of Dr. Scott Peck really resonate with me. He further elaborates:
Nothing interferes with our spiritual growth and relationship with God more than our sense of unacceptability, unworthiness, unimportance, and unlovability. It’s hard to accept ourselves; we don’t feel acceptable enough to God to approach him. As the Bridegroom, the Savior says to us, ‘Come with me.’ But we say, ‘No! No! No! I’m too fat, or I’m too wrinkled and ugly.’ But in fact, we don’t realize how very desirable and very important and very beautiful we are to Him ( Peck, Self-Love Vs. Self-Esteem, Simon & Schuster Audiotapes).
But here’s the irony: In order to feel His love and acceptance, we need to get over ourselves and muster up the confidence and faith to approach the Savior and wrap ourselves in His grace. We have to “give it over to God” as they say in the Twelve Steps. Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. What’s more, we have to do this again and again with each of our sins and weaknesses until we’re perfected. Conversely, our shame and guilt perpetually undermine and sabotage our hope for His deliverance. I refer to the Twelve Step manual:
For some of us this miracle (or deliverance) was almost instantaneous; for others, recovery has been more gradual. However it may occur for you, you will eventually be able to say with us that through ‘steadfastness in Christ,’ you are rescued from addiction (or whatever struggle we’re having) and enjoy a ‘perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20).
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught of the power of the Lord to help you.
We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simplicity, the sweetness, the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance (see 1 Nephi 1: 20). Some individuals who hear or read this message erroneously may discount or dismiss in their personal lives the availability of the tender mercies of the Lord. We may falsely think that such blessings and gifts are reserved for other people who appear to be more righteous or who serve in visible Church callings. I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are available to all of us and that the Redeemer of Israel is eager to bestow such gifts upon us” (Ensign, May 2005, p. 106-7).
Most of us have heard of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the organization that devised the Twelve Steps. It was founded in 1935 by two recovering alcoholics in Akron, Ohio. Dr. Peck calls this movement one of the most significant in the 20th century. He also refers to this organization as the most “successful ‘church’ in America. They teach people wisdom and to learn how to distinguish between constructive and destructive suffering” (Simon & Schuster Audio). In recent years, the Church has also recognized this program’s significance by integrating the Twelve Steps in LDS Social Services. As a stake Relief Society presidency, we also encourage the Twelve Steps to all of our sisters as a fruitful productive path to spiritual and emotional growth. Years ago, I ordered the LDS Twelve Step manual from lds.org and “worked” the program at home –not only for my own well-being but to enhance my teaching and ministering. Thus, I can personally testify of the immense power of these steps as they help us up the stairway ever closer to our Savior.
I’ll close with one of my favorite scriptures (also included in Twelve Steps): Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Got hope? Got boldness?