Monday, February 6, 2012

Grace and Godly Sorrow (Moroni 10:32-33)

In December I wrote a post called "Grace and Gasoline" that discussed the necessity of Grace for our salvation, comparing it to gasoline in a car. If you haven't read that post, you may want to go back and read it first. I suppose it isn't essential to understand this one, but I may draw back on things I said in that post and assume you know what I'm talking about. You've been warned.

Anyway, the subject of Grace has been on my mind a lot more the past few weeks, and I felt like it would be helpful to write another post on the subject. In my earlier post on Grace, I emphasized its importance and the fact that it is an enabling power. In this post, I'd like to discuss more specifically HOW it acts as that enabling power, including some specific ways I've seen Grace manifest in my own life and the divine role of Godly Sorrow in the process of sanctification, as opposed to its counterfeit, shame.

So, let's dig right into it, shall we? In that last post I proposed a rather in-depth analogy comparing Grace to gasoline, enabling us to move forward. It's a mighty nice thought, but do we see examples in the real world? I think even recognizing that Grace somehow plays a role along the way, we fail sometimes to grasp what that role is. I'm sure I still do in many ways. But I've recently come to see very clearly at least a little manifestation of Grace acting as the fuel which propelled me forward. I want to begin with a scripture from literally the closing verses of the Book of Mormon. In Moroni 10:32-33 we read:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. 
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. 

And so, in these verses, among the very last words of Moroni before he sealed up the plates, we see God's great plan revealed: to make us perfect and holy. Note that Moroni doesn't neglect our part (in the analogy, if you remember, it is still up to us to drive the car). Thus, we must put forth our effort to deny ourselves of all ungodliness. In other words, our desire and action need to be there in order for all of this to work--God won't force us to improve if we don't desire it. But the gas is absolutely essential for the car to move forward when we push down on the peddle. Moroni here uses one of my favorite words to describe this perfection process: SANCTIFICATION. It is sad to me how few latter-day saints understand this concept. The word itself literally means "to make holy." It describes what Grace DOES. It is what life is all about: conversion. We are hopefully throughout out lives constantly in the process of being converted from raw, natural men and women, into divine beings. Sometimes we choose instead to be converted in the opposite direction. But with God's help we can choose godliness, thanks to Grace and the power of sanctification.

So, now let me humble myself a bit and share some of my own experiences with you and how I've seen grace manifest in my life. I've written on two previous occasions about a friend of mine I find especially attractive who I've code named "Methuselah" for the purposes of this blog. In the previous 2 posts I've written about him, I alluded to the concept of impure thoughts and how we can keep them at bay. Those are great posts of advice on how to help keep thoughts clean--at least our side of it. Those posts detail well how we put our foot on the gas and steer the car, as per the road trip analogy of Grace. But overcoming impure thoughts I had about "Methuselah" required more than my own effort. Today I want to tell you that Grace changed my heart, enabling me to overcome those thoughts.

When I confessed to my bishop about the thoughts I'd had, he gave me a beautiful analogy. He said that there's nothing wrong with a bird flying over our heads, and perhaps sometimes even landing there! But if we let him build a nest in our hair, that is entirely our fault. Sadly, in the case of "Methuselah" several months ago I had begun to let the bird build a nest. I allowed myself to conjure up some pretty awful fantasies involving the two of us in my head. Now, once again, my previous posts (which are linked to in the previous paragraph) detail the things I did personally to overcome those impure thoughts. If you are struggling with keeping your thoughts pure, please read the advice I offer there for "chasing the bird away" so to speak. But also keep reading this post, because I think the most important part of the equation is relying on Christ to help with the parts we can't do on our own. You see, at the time I genuinely enjoyed those fantasies. I DIDN'T WANT to forsake them. But, I DID recognize the deficiency in my desires. I was able to start putting forth the effort to change before I even entirely desired to, but above all I prayed to God to help my desires change. And at the time I left it at that and moved on and was able to gradually clean up my thoughts. And while I recognized the change in thoughts, I didn't realize along the way how much my desires had changed until this last week actually.

As I mentioned in previous posts, one of the ways I coped with my attraction to "Methuselah" and dispelled bad thoughts was by developing a healthy friendship with him. I've recently done some fun social things with him and have gotten to know him really quite well. This last week, reflecting on the fun friendship and spiritual ways I've gotten to know him also, I was suddenly reminded of the profane thoughts I had about him back in October. In that moment I experienced a huge wave of what the scriptures call "Godly Sorrow." There was no fondness for those thoughts. Only disgust. I honestly couldn't believe that I'd ever allowed my thoughts to go there. I felt sick to my stomach that I'd let such a pure and innocent person be the unwitting victim of such awful thoughts. I felt great sadness; like I'd hurt him very personally. I felt like I'd profaned something very sacred--and indeed I had. But then I was hit with the realization of how sacred that feeling of remorse was. I was reminded of my prayers to God that He would with His Grace help change my desires, something I was not able to accomplish on my own, despite my best efforts. I was able to do lots of other things to cut the thoughts off, but the desires had remained. But in the last few months, my efforts plus grace teamed up and I was transformed. In at least one dimension of my character, I experienced sanctification. Through God's Grace, my heart was changed. I no longer desire unchaste thoughts for "Methuselah" or anyone else now. In fact, the thought disgusts me now! I've been filled with a renewed sense of sacred regard for my fellow men. And I am so full of gratitude for it!

So, let me wrap this post up by commenting a bit more on that feeling of Godly Sorrow. It is very natural to feel sorrow for sin. In fact, this week it was a welcome tender mercy from God that helped me recognize His Grace: it was that sorrow that helped me realize how much cleaner I am as a person, and how far Grace has brought me. Now, I would warn you all to learn to discern between Godly Sorrow and its counterfeit, shame. I recently heard the difference between the two defined as follows: Godly Sorrow is embodied by sadness for sins we've committed, and always serves as a healthy motivator for change, or in some cases a reminder of the change we've made. Shame, on the other hand, is fueled by self-loathing. While Godly Sorrow says, "the things you've done are bad," shame says, "YOU are bad person." Shame undermines the person's self-worth and thus tries to serve to keep us stuck in sin. Shame discourages us and tells us that because we are sinners, why should we even try to change? Or why should we like ourselves? Shame is what can breed suicidal thoughts. Satan wants you to feel shame, and then will tell you it is Godly Sorrow, in order to try to make you believe that you DESERVE to feel such hateful things about yourself. DON'T LISTEN TO THOSE LIES! You are a soul of great worth. You deserve to feel loved by God, because He does love you! He loves you enough to have sent His Son to atone for you, so that you could experience the Grace and Sanctification that will make you more like Him. Along the way, you will naturally feel some Godly Sorrow for your imperfections, but I hope you don't ever let shame hold you too tightly or too long. As the beautiful hymn "I Stand All Amazed" puts it, sometimes recognizing God's atoning love for us can leave us "confused at the grace that so fully he proffers" us. Because I do not yet love perfectly as He does, I too am continually confused by that Grace. Oh it is wonderful, that He should care for me enough to die for me!

I hope this second post on Grace has been helpful. I'm sure it won't be my last on this subject. Thank you for reading. I love you all so much!

My best,


1 comment:

  1. Great advice for anyone dealing with an inappropriate crush, regardless of gender. Always uplifting to read your blog, and I hope you continue to do well!


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