Since I’ve at times been grumpy, unhelpful, the bad kind of opinionated, and wrong about things, I haven’t felt like I’m the right person, in the right moment, with the right amount of faithfulness to be the giver of the things I’ll discuss below.
I’m not a theologian or doctrine ninja. I’m not extremely well-versed in scripture and I haven’t always been on the straight and narrow path.
But I belong to one of the world’s most misunderstood religions, and I know what it takes to be in good standing as a Mormon.
I also know the difference in my life when I’m lukewarm versus all in. I like to tell myself that I feel the same when I’m half-way, that I can stop following a few laws in order to make room for some new ways of thinking that might spice things up a bit.
Then, it happens every time: I start doing a little less. I begin to see the shine taken from my eyes. I feel as if an ever-so-slight layer of mud is packed over my heart that grows a little thicker each day.
I feel more easily incensed by the atrocities in the world, but not in a way that makes me seek to improve them, only to condemn those at fault. I have a little volcano bubbling underneath my outwardly calm surface.
I seek for new things to make me feel excited about life, to feel like maybe there’s some other way to fulfill the growing emptiness. In return I feel dull in spirit, unsure of why I’m doing anything I’m doing if it’s only leading to feeling more like this.
Then, worst of all, I feel alone. Alone while surrounded by more love and hope than perhaps ever in my life.
Then, through some mix of sheer mercy and desperation, I am shown a way.
I go back to the beginning, back to the simplest of truths, those I have known in the deepest reaches of my heart that have saved me more times than I can count. The crusted mud on my heart crumbles away. The smallest act of kindness, toward me or from me, brings happiness and hope.
I find purpose, a path, and an alertness of mind I don’t know how I ever do without. I feel bright again.
No one hesitates to share how they lost five pounds, how they got their kids to stop hitting their siblings (actually, no one has helped me with this. Speak up!), or how much everyone should care about this cause or that.
But when someone asks me about depression or relationships or parenting or inner peace, I have been keeping my answers specific instead of holistic.
Breaking news: Religion isn’t cool. Shocker.
It’s definitely not a (positively) trending topic right now; I mean, I hardly ever see hashtags like #rulesrule or #givemeboundaries, much less #GodLovesScience and stuff like that.
But there’s no way I am being real to my readers (do I have actual “readers”?) if I’m pushing the tenets of social psychology, relationship healing, self-improvement and all the rest, while leaving out the factor that I actually attribute to any lasting peace or happiness I’ve experienced.
And that, unequivocally, has come from fully living my religion. And I mean, the real religion.
One issue is that I don’t follow the tenets of Mormonism to perfection. Those close to me (and those not close to me, really) could tally up diversion after mistake after deliberate rebellion they have witnessed in me, painting a picture of just how imperfectly I follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However as I get older, I am finally beginning to absorb something I had only given lip-service to over the years.
Following the rules to perfection isn’t Mormonism. Going to church or not drinking alcohol isn’t Mormonism. In fact, doctrinally speaking, one will not be saved if things like that are the central focus.
Messing up and knowing where to turn because of it, then doing so, over and over again, is perfect Mormonism.
In short, knowing Jesus Christ is perfect Mormonism.
How can one know Jesus Christ? And why?
Growing up I learned all the rules to being Mormon. And there are a lot. I learned that if you follow all these rules, you will be happy and safe from Satan and the very real difficulties he presents. So, I followed The List.
- No alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs (or marijuana even if it’s legal, for you tricksters out there)
- No coffee or tea
- No premarital sex, no sex outside of marriage, no pornography
- Donate 10% of your income to the church (which is run 95% by unpaid clergy)
- Attend 3 hours of church every Sunday, and often other recreational and meeting-ish things during the week
- No work, shopping, or major play on Sunday, although it’s open to personal interpretation as to what exactly that entails
- Read scriptures and pray often
- Wear an undergarment that doesn’t allow for any clothing above the knee or off the shoulder
- No cursing or foul speech
- Typically hold a volunteer position within the church donating time, efforts, and talents to keeping the church running
- Fast for 24 hours once per month, then donate the money you would have spent on food to the needy
- Get enough rest
- Eat foods that are good for you, ones that come from the Earth; eat meat sparingly
But you want to know the wild part? These aren’t even the hard ones. Even more wild: These aren’t the ones that lead to the happiness promised. These are the basics. The warm-up.
I for one have never been happy when I simply follow that list. Yes, I said ‘simply‘. It truly is the easy part when you compare it to what follows.
Mormonism is only complete and effective once the above list is added to the below*. They have to go together**.
*This is in no way a comprehensive or ordered list. I have intentionally left certain key items off of it. Also, there are too many citations to put in, so just know that if you have any doubts about the doctrinal basis for any of these, just ask.
**By way of reference, everything from both lists can be found within the Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price- all of which are in the LDS canon of scripture.
- Love God
- Love everyone else
- Believe God to be your Heavenly Father, a man of flesh and bones, united with your Heavenly Mother, the Parents of Jesus Christ your Brother, all Beings with only your eternal happiness and salvation as their central purpose and delight.
- Come to understand what it means to literally be a spiritual child of Deity, destined to follow in their footsteps
- Have faith in God- there’s a lot to that, but it’s important so look it up
- Figure out how to love people, truly, like not just behaving like you do, but actually loving them inside your heart, without embracing behaviors that aren’t ideal for families or society at large
- Serve other people any time it is possible- in the smallest or largest ways
- Help the poor through an outpouring of money, resources, time, and love
- Figure out how to give others everything you have while not depleting the essence of yourself
- Figure out how not to worry about the essence of yourself
- Believe that every person you meet is a soul of limitless potential, who lived with you in heaven prior to coming to Earth, and who is connected to you through Divine heritage
- Don’t make yourself another person’s judge
- Figure out how to do that while simultaneously living a religion which outlaws their very behaviors
- Realize that you have your own weaknesses and therefore have no room to bother with theirs
- Embed in your soul the reality that you lived with God, Christ, and your fellow humans prior to coming to Earth, and will return there after death, making this life both extremely fleeting relative to our whole life, yet highly significant
- Repent every day, many times a day, genuinely striving to reset your course even when you fail miserably
- Forgive constantly
- Figure out how to forgive while also keeping yourself safe
- Learn how to have faith that God will keep you safe if you just focus on your part in the forgiveness
- Forgive yourself when God forgives you
- Be honest in every way and value integrity above any kind of advancement or praise
- Eliminate pride (good luck!)- meaning, be humble, think about where you might be wrong, give others the benefit of the doubt, follow God’s will above your own, take no pleasure in the shortcomings of another person
- Have faith that Heavenly Father can actually make you into a person I just described
- Do not be easily offended
- Even when someone actually means to offend you
- Especially when they mean to offend you
- Yep, you have to just suck it up and ask Christ to carry it for you, all while praying for them and yes, loving them
- Learn that you are an agent to act and not to be acted upon. The only thing you actually possess is your will
- Be modest. But not just with clothes. Clothes are the easy modesty. Be prudent, don’t be a show off, don’t brag. Don’t focus on money or having the biggest or the best. Even when you have/are the biggest or the best, don’t go spreading it around
- Be forever patient
- With other people, yourself, your kids, timing of events, lack of blessings or outcomes, bad outcomes
- Show gratitude always
- Figure out how to attribute everything great in life to God’s mercy and love, and realize that you’ll feel better about yourself than if you took any credit for yourself.
- Get to a place where you believe, not that “everything happens for a reason”, but that “all things shall work together for your good”- even suffering
- Cultivate hope
- Figure out how to be hopeful even when tragedy occurs and suffering abounds
- Maintain a positive outlook while not becoming complacent; never ceasing to actively fight for safety, health, and peace for every one of God’s children
- Know that no amount of righteousness exempts you from suffering. In fact, sometimes the greatest challenges come to the best people. Buckle up.
- Know that you are nothing
- Know that you are infinitely valuable and have more potential than you can fathom
- Focus on your family and make sacrifices to do right by them
- Do that while also making sacrifices to help those outside your family
- Understand that the family is eternal, you will be reunited with them after this life and therefore must do all within your power to protect, love, and prioritize them
- Be willing to sacrifice everything for God, another person, or to maintain your virtue
- Spend one evening a week with your family doing nothing but being with them
- Read scriptures daily and pray at least a couple of times a day, with your family, alone, and with your spouse
- Figure out how to do this even when you don’t want to at all
- Get yourself to do it consistently for a couple of days and then wonder why you ever stopped
- Embrace refugees and the downtrodden and the oppressed
- Never be unkind. Ever
- Even when someone voted differently than you
- Figure out how to stand up for what you believe is right without being unkind
- Become educated in any way you can and don’t waste time
- Futility search for a way to avoid idleness while still catching up on nonsense TV
- Seek after anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy
- And when you inevitably fail at all of the above, come to know our Savior Jesus Christ.
- Know how He lived life. But more importantly, know why He died.
- Believe it or not, His beautiful and short life on Earth isn’t the most important thing about Him.
- Many great people lived lives of service and even healed people; only He suffered the pains of your sins, infirmities, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual pain, so that you don’t have to feel the entirety of it. He died in order to make it so when we sin against God and our fellow humans, we can be made whole again.
- Learn how to know Him. Learn how He knows you. Believe Him when He says He understands you. There is nothing you have or will suffer that He has not.
- Study the Atonement whenever possible. Tie all things into His Atonement. Attempt to understand its magnitude and its vital role in us having any happiness or hope in this life.
- Understand how the Atonement isn’t only about removing sin.
- Learn that it’s about buoying us up when we are sick, emotionally pained, disappointed in ourselves, guilt-ridden, and feeling like what we did is so bad there’s no coming back from it.
- Find a way to grasp the fact that literally everything good experienced, observed, or discovered in this world can only exist because Christ defeated the Adversary.
- Stretch yourself to the point where you can catch a glimmer of what it means to lean on Him when you want to yell at your kids, when you want to back down from a worthy goal, when you feel unloveable or insignificant.
- Figure out how to make the Atonement’s power tangible, not simply an abstract idea. The Atonement is vast; it isn’t a statement of accepting Jesus into one’s heart. It is infinitely expansive and will challenge even the brightest intellectual mind if it is allowed.
- Remind yourself over and over that Christ’s grace saves you, your righteousness does not.
- Cry out to Him day and night until you are able to feel the profound and unbelievable love He has for you. Knowing that love exists will motivate you to do everything else on this list without complaint.
- Understand how faith, repentance, and charity (pure love of Christ) work in constant tandem to grow one another inside of us as we access the power of the atonement.
And then, while you’re doing all that, go help your neighbor move their couch.
Wake up to give a ride to the airport too early in the morning.
Donate the furniture in your house to refugees who have nothing (like my father-in-law did. His kids were like, “that was nice and all, Dad, but what are we going to sit on?”).
Be completely wiped out from work and come home and clean the house then visit a sick friend.
Be completely wiped out from parenting all day and turn to your spouse and show them love and attention.
Yep, the second list is harder than avoiding certain beverages. But difficulty with a purpose equals big payoffs for anyone who gives it their all.
I’m not always successful in life, but when I am, this is the secret to it.
If I have joy, this is the secret to it.
If I’m at peace, this is my secret.
It’s that simple.