Attending rehab for drug and sexual addiction, the young woman approached the podium to bear her testimony in her Utah ward’s Sacrament meeting service. She talked honestly and courageously about her continued struggle with addiction. Sadly, someone in the congregation passed a note to this young woman’s mother. It read, “How dare you let your daughter get up and say that!” I admired the mother’s response: She immediately sent back the note with the reply, “Excuse me, but did Christ come for the saints or for the sinners?”
No wonder so many church members hide their addictions and/or struggles (or that of family members’) to avoid such cruel judgment I’d like to add to this brave mother’s reply: Jesus Christ came for sinners and for saints because saints sin too. Yet in our attempts to carefully guard our “saintliness” among our fellow “saints,” we often hide our sins and struggles. Talk about irony! In our supposed “community of saints,” we often struggle alone.
Fortunately, the Church recognizes the need for a safe place to discuss our struggles. LDS Social Services has fashioned a Twelve Step program very similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Step One emphasizes honesty for some of the reasons I mentioned above. It reads:
Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable (A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, 2005, p. 1).
Thus, in order to get well, we need to get honest–with ourselves, with others–and with God. Additionally, our spiritual and emotional growth depends on our ability to get honest–regardless of addiction. In previous posts I’ve discussed the disconnect regarding the Word of Wisdom and the notion of addiction in the minds of many Latter-Day Saints. In short, many, many of us suffer from addictive mindsets that manifest themselves in ways other than drug or alcohol use. In our ignorance and/or dishonesty, we continue to suffer as our lives and relationships spiral downward.
The Book of Mormon prophets recognized and described this ancient and modern problem using the metaphors “flaxen cords” and “chains.” The Recovery Guide elaborates: With each act of dishonesty, we bind ourselves with ‘flaxen cords’ that soon became as strong as chains (2 Nephi 26:22). When we resorted to lies and secrecy, hoping to excuse ourselves or blame others, we weakened spiritually.
As a counselor in our stake Relief Society presidency, I attended an LDS conference on addiction and compulsion a few years back. Gratefully, I felt the Spirit teach me some timeless principles:
- One of the troubles of a “secret life” is that it becomes a secret from the person who lives it. Only through the pain of acknowledgement and honesty do we find hope.
- God loves us just the way we are, but He doesn’t leave us this way. Pain will come but misery is optional.
- Lasting change comes from heart power, not just will power. Our progress isn’t so much about squelching bad behavior as nourishing the good. Recognize our weaknesses but also our strengths.
- We are spiritual beings having human experiences.
- In sharing our truths, we come to gradually accept each other. When others accept us, we begin to accept ourselves.
- Our distorted attempts to meet our legitimate needs = compulsion and/or addiction.
- When we gather the courage to see ourselves as we really are, we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Thus, we feel more fully His unconditional love and we begin to love ourselves.
The Recovery Guide emphasizes the need to let go of our pride and seek humility:
Pride and honesty cannot coexist. Pride is an illusion…it distorts the truth about things as they are, as they have been, and as they will be. As [we] become willing to admit the problems [we] face, [our] pride will gradually be replaced with humility. We lie to ourselves and to others. But we could not really fool ourselves. We pretended we were fine, full of bravado and excuses, but somewhere deep inside we knew. The Light of Christ continued to remind us. We knew we were sliding down a slippery slope toward greater and greater sorrow. Denying this truth was such hard work that it was a big relief finally to admit that we had a problem. Suddenly, we allowed a tiny opening for hope to slip in. When we chose to admit to ourselves that we had a problem and we became willing to seek support and help, we gave that hope a place to grow (p. 2).
President Ezra Taft Benson also discusses pride in his wonderful talk during the April 1989 General Conference:
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.’ Our will in competition to God’s will allow desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled (see Alma 38:12; 3 Nephi 12:30). The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives (see Helaman 12:6). They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works (Ensign, May 1989, p. 4).
But here’s the kicker: We often don’t recognize our feelings and actions as prideful. (After all, we’re just trying to get through our day!) Due to our lack of knowledge and ability we continue to struggle–sinking deeper into pain. When we discover our distorted ways in attempting to quell our anxieties and discomforts, and then working to correct them, we experience the joy of recovery. Furthermore, we “saints” who showcase and profess our awesome “saintliness” within our wards and stakes (and to nonmembers) are also acting in shameful pride. Not only does this create enmity between ourselves and God, but enmity with our fellow church members and non-members to whom we associate.
Honesty really is the best policy!