Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abuse and the Spirit

A recent comment on another blog got me thinking about something that I hadn't really been able to put my finger on properly before.

Emotional abuse, at its core, is the systematic destruction of a person's self confidence. Whether it is by ridiculing and name calling, or by more subtle comments made over the course of years, the effect is to weaken a person's ability to trust themselves and their perceptions.

An abuser must destroy this self-confidence because it softens the recipient of abuse for what will come next: the exploitation of self. By the time the exploitation occurs (physical violence being one of the most flashy forms of exploitation, though by no means the only one), the recipient is convinced that they either deserve what is happening to them, or they are unsure that it is happening at all. Usually, it's a strange combination of both.

The horrible aspect of this, especially for members of the Church, is that loss of self-confidence also means loss of ability to listen to the Spirit. The abuser's methods quite effectively cut a recipient off from the Spirit and the Lord before the recipient is even aware of what is happening.

And the effects can last a lifetime.

This is important to understand for any member of the Church seeking to help an abuse recipient through recovery. Often in decision-making and healing processes within the Church, the Spirit is appealed to as a source for inspiration. For a person trying to heal from abuse, the suggestion to follow their heart or follow the Spirit does little but cause frustration, desperation, and increased feelings of worthlessness.

It is vital, therefore, to help a recipient first learn to trust themselves to feel the Spirit again. If that broken relationship can be healed, the rest will come in time. This takes constant reassurance and validation. Try not to lose patience. There are changes being made that you won't be able to see for a very long time.

If you are the one recovering from abuse, you must expect that those around you who care about you will not understand your need for validation. They may get frustrated with it. Remember that they love and care about you or they would not be trying to help in the first place. They may just not know how long your road to healing is, nor realize that you are making progress that seems vast to you, but small to them.

Learn to validate yourself. Praise yourself for every time you try to listen to the Spirit, and for every step you make in overcoming fear. No one else knows what you need as much as you do. It will be frightening, terrifying to make decisions and take action based on little more than the hope that the impressions coming into your head are from the Lord. But it is vital that you do so. Start with little things, like going up and talking to someone or simply smiling at a stranger.

In time, you will be able to reforge that bond of trust in yourself that you so desperately need.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Simply a Choice"

I was loosely following a discussion over at Times & Seasons about homosexuality (great job, Alison!) when a phrase jumped out at me. The commenter, whom I have not seen before, said this in comment 18: "It is simplistic in the extreme to think that sexual orientation is simply a choice."

My first thought was "of course it's not SIMPLY a choice! Choice is never just a choice." Which sobered me.

In my search to serve the Lord, I have come to understand that sometimes decisions which are counterintuitive and extremely uncomfortable often need to be made in order to be a true disciple.*

True, it is not a hard decision for me to decide to be heterosexual. It comes naturally. Nor was it a hard decision for me to reject drug or alcohol usage. Nor, with my physique, has modesty been a huge issue. But I have other things which I have fought against. As a teen and young adult, my temper was a really tough one. I was born with a fiery temper. My dad had a temper, my grandfather had a temper and my great-grandfather had a temper (records are scarce before that.) It is a natural trait. Yet, it is not acceptable in society to allow one's temper to rage out of control. So, I have gradually, slowly, with painstaking effort, learned to control my temper. Now, I rarely get angry, and when I feel my emotions rising, I know enough to take a time out.

Learning to overcome my body's chemical response to such stimulus has been a complicated and uphill battle. I've only overcome it through extensive divine help. And, although it is overcome, much like an alcoholic, I will always struggle with it to some extent.

Granted, homosexuality is not the same thing, but physiologically speaking, sexual desire is analogous to the desire to fight or flight in intensity. So, yes, I believe that homosexual behavior is a choice . . . but not JUST a choice. Never that.

*This is not to countenance "God told me to do it" rationalization for things such as the Inquisition, but it is relatively easy to determine the line between the two. Using God as rationalization harms others and benefits self. Discipline in the Lord's service most often seems to harm the self and benefit others. I have reason to know for myself this is true.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why the Church is True

I love this essay by Eugene England. It's an old one, but it deserves to be read periodically.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Divine Characteristic: Silence

I have a generally expressive social style, which means that I often open my mouth before my brain decides what to say. I therefore have a tendency to speak whatever is on my mind. As I read scripture, however, I cannot help but notice that while we often speak of the ability to open our mouths to speak, the ability to be silent is also important to a disciple of Christ. Sometimes, the prophets of the Lord have been commanded not to write some great thing.

Perhaps the easiest example of this is Christ, himself. When He stood before His Pharisaical accusers, He spoke not one word to defend Himself. Can you imagine what it is like, to stand silent while others rage and taunt you, knowing that your silence will lead to your death?

Because this is a divine attribute I am in dire need of developing, I don't understand it completely. One thing is becoming clear to me, that the most common time to be silent is in the face of willful ignorance. There is no point in speaking, then. Once testimony has been borne, there is nothing more to say to those who are so embroiled in their own illusion of reality, they will afford no room for another opinion.

My time spent on LDS blogs has helped me learn this balancing trait. When I first began commenting, I often thought that people presented problems online because they wanted a solution. I naively assumed that they were looking to change themselves, to understand a little more of the Gospel of Christ. I still think that many seek understanding, but there are mostly times and places online where the true goal is to find camaraderie, not solutions. At times like this, it is sometimes better to be silent.

There have also been times when I have heard silence from the Lord in answer to my pleas to Him for understanding. It is at these times when I have had to accept His silence before I could feel His presence at my side. I have come to realize that sometimes I am not ready for an answer, and that an answer would sometimes harm me more than it would help me. I find this also true with my own daughter, at times. There are just some things she has to work out on her own, and all I can do is sit beside her silently.

To take this one step further, I have found that occasionally in scripture, the Lord grants a person the ability to bind or seal in earth and in heaven. Often, this is connected to the Priesthood power, but it seems to be more than the Priesthood as we commonly understand it. The best recounting of this, and one of my favorite scriptures, is the moment the Lord declares His utter trust in Nephi, son of Helaman. The Lord says to him:
"Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments. And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
Helaman 10:4-5, emphasis added
What I would not give for such a declaration of faith! This is God Himself telling Nephi that He trusts him!

And how did he obtain that trust? By seeking the will of God, by putting Him first without wearying. (And oh, how I weary!) He declared what the Lord wanted him to declare, no less . . . and no more. He knew NOT to ask as much as he knew to ask. Sometimes I wonder if the Lord could trust him because he knew when to speak and when to keep silent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Divine Characteristic: Vulnerability

". . . The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying, 'How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?' And Enoch said unto the Lord, 'How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever . . . and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?"
Moses 7:28-31, emphasis added
I find it humbling to know that the Lord weeps alongside us in our pain. Most of the time, when we are suffering, it is all too easy to feel utterly alone. It is easy to decide that He must not exist if He is capable of witnessing such pain, or that He must be impotent if He can stand by and do nothing, or that if He does exist, that He is not worthy of our worship.

But we are not alone.

I think one of the most powerful scriptural images for me is in the parable of the olive grove told in the Book of Mormon. In it, the Lord of the vineyard and His servant go to extraordinary lengths to try to preserve the delicious fruit of a dying tree. It seems to work for a time, then when the two return to the garden, they see that the delicious fruit is being choked out by unpleasant fruit.
"And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: 'What could I have done more for my vineyard?'"
Jacob 5:41
I have had much occasion through the course of my life to feel the vibrancy of this plea for understanding. Despite doing my best, I often see my efforts come to nothing. Granted, I am not as powerful as the Lord, but I think I feel at least a small part of how and why the Lord can sorrow over us so poignantly and yet remain God.

Read carefully the answer the Lord gives Enoch. Perhaps by studying it, we can come to understand God a little better.
The Lord said unto Enoch, "Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; . . .

'Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also. Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren. But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? . . . . And That which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment; Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands."
Moses 7:32-40, emphasis added
God is eternal and endless, yet he can still suffer alongside us for the pain of mortality and temporary suffering.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Divine Characteristic: Doing Nothing

". . . And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: 'How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.'

But Alma said unto him: 'The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.'

Now Amulek said unto Alma: 'Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.'

And Alma said: 'Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.'

Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: 'After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone? Behold, ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them because they were of thy faith. And the judge smote them again upon their cheeks, and asked: What say ye for yourselves?"

Alma 14:10-15, emphasis added

In my current personal journey, this seems to be a lesson the Lord is trying to teach me with a vengeance! I have so many concerns in my life, so many problems that either do not have an answer, or do not have an answer I am willing to accept.

I am not good at doing nothing.

Yet, it is increasingly obvious that doing nothing despite being capable of doing something can be a divine characteristic. Obviously, sometimes doing nothing causes us to sin by omission. How do we know the difference? How can we discern when is the time to act and when we should stand by, watching the train wrecking and doing nothing?

The only real answer to that is to depend on the Spirit.

This can be a tall order for someone who has tried with all they have to rely on the Spirit, only to see the effort come to nothing good, to see friends and family hurt by your attempts.

But this is no different than Alma and Amulek above, watching the innocent die because of the words they preached and because of the men who meant the prophets ill. How agonizing it must have been to allow them to pay that price!

I pray that the Spirit will be able to guide me truly as I try to better develop this divine characteristic and learn to simply. Sit. Still. And Wait.


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