None are Forbidden

Open-Gate

 

Frequently Satan tries to make me feel shame. Sometimes he dredges up old, painful memories related to sins for which the Lord has already forgiven me; other times he whispers lies about my self worth, that I am not cut out to be a good man, or that there’s no point in continuing onward given my history of repeated failure. Whatever the play, when I listen the effect is the same: I end up feeling like a lost cause.

What a crock!

I am not a lost cause because Jesus Christ has cleared the path for everyone! No one is too lost, too addicted, too depressed, or too beaten to fall beyond the reach of the Savior. He gently prompts me to not give up, to keep going especially when I see no point in trying; and He never misleads me. When I choose to listen to His voice, the effect is always the same: I feel uplifted.

These scriptures from the Book of Mormon have comforted me the past few weeks:

For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.

Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.

Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

2 Nephi 26:23-28

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Journey before Destination

living

“Life before death. Journey before destination,” Sil whispered. … “I like that.”

“Why?” Caladin asked.

“… Because,” she replied, as if that were explanation enough. “I know you want to give up, but you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t.”

“I can’t do it again,” he thought, squeezing his eyes shut.

What was hope, except another opportunity for failure? How many times could a man fall before he no longer stood back up?

“I can’t save them, Sil,” Caladin whispered, anguished.

“Are you certain?”

“I’ve failed every time before.”

“And so you’ll fail this time, too?”

“Yes.”

She fell silent. “Well then,” she eventually said. “Let’s say that you’re right.”

“So why fight? I told myself that I would try one last time, but I failed before I began! There’s no saving them!”

“Doesn’t the fight itself mean anything?”

“Not if you’re destined to die.” He hung his head.

He realized what was happening to him—this melancholy, this sense of despair. He’d become the wretch, not caring; but also not despairing. It seemed better not to feel at all, rather than feel pain.

“I’m going to fail them,” Caladin thought, squeezing his eyes shut. “Why try?”

Wasn’t he a fool to keep grasping as he did?

The Wretch seemed to be standing before him. He meant release. Apathy.

Did he really want to go back to that? It was a false refuge. Being that man hadn’t protected him. It had only led him deeper and deeper until taking his own life had seemed the better way.

Life before death. Journey before destination.

Doesn’t the fight itself mean anything?

– Excerpts from Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings”

Quote

When I think I can’t continue on

“Every person, young and old, has had his own personal experience with falling. Falling is what we mortals do. But as long as we are willing to rise up again and continue on the path toward the spiritual goals God has given us, we can learn something from failure and become better and happier as a result.

My dear brethren, my dear friends, there will be times when you think you cannot continue on. Trust the Savior and His love. With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power and hope of the restored gospel, you will be able to walk tall and continue on.

…We acknowledge that your path will at times be difficult. But I give you this promise in the name of the Lord: rise up and follow in the footsteps of our Redeemer and Savior, and one day you will look back and be filled with eternal gratitude that you chose to trust the Atonement and its power to lift you up and give you strength” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference, Oct 2013).

Sincere Failure

Fair warning… it’s about to get really open and vulnerable in here. :)

My Heavenly Father continues to bless me abundantly through the 90-day program I’m currently doing (check out arpsupport.org). This program includes my sharing my journal entries with my sponsor every night. It helps me practice accountability, honesty, and vulnerability, in addition to helping me establish healthy habits of daily self-assessment and “checking in” with Heavenly Father.

I wrote the following in my journal on 6 Mar 2014:

“Isla got up at who knows when this morning and woke me up at 6:20, which is progress for her. We’ve been training her to sleep till the sun ‘wakes up,’ but the poor kid has a hard time discerning when that happens because of nearby construction lights. We give her some chocolate milk with breakfast when she gets up with the sun. This morning we went downstairs and she said disappointingly, ‘I guess I can have some milk?’ I told her, ‘Yes, of course! Don’t you want chocolate milk? You waited till the sun woke up.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, no. Look,’ and she walked over to the window, opened the blinds, pointed at the construction lights, and said, ‘It’s not light outside yet, Daddy.’ I stifled my laughter and told her she did a good job waiting longer today and she thought it was light outside, so she could have some chocolate milk for doing her best. She smiled and excitedly accepted, haha.”

In response, my sponsor posed this question to me:  “I think there is a lesson in your little girl’s early wake-up experience. How is her reaction to you as her father—her questions, her concern that she wouldn’t get the blessing of chocolate milk—similar to your experience with Heavenly Father? Put yourself in your daughter’s shoes.”

Once he pointed out the potential similarity, I began to see it intellectually; but I did not feel it. I could not understand how God could feel toward me what I felt toward Isla that morning. Yes, Isla is my daughter and I am one of God’s children. Yes, He has shown me mercy when I did not deserve it (isn’t that why it’s called mercy?), but I thought this experience with Isla was different. She was doing the best she could. I couldn’t fault her or be disappointed in her for that.  But me? I’m an addict. I’ve relapsed countless times after sincerely repenting. Surely there’s no similarity between the two beyond the father-child relationship.

I needed almost a week of frequent and deliberate pondering to see the similarities between the two relationships—mine and Isla’s, and mine and God’s. I received my answer from my Heavenly Father while doing my step work on the morning of 13 Mar 2014:

“Q: How does the Savior’s infinite Atonement increase your hope for repentance and healing as you go through the recovery process?
A: Its in-finiteness has become appealing to me because I can trust that it doesn’t run out. I can trust that I don’t have a limited number of chances for repentance, and I’m certain I’m going to need many, many more chances for repentance and learning. I’m not perfect yet, so I’m going to need more chances for healing from my sins and mistakes. The people I love will also need healing from my choices. I feel hopeful knowing that there’s no limit to that miracle.

Q: How does this apply to other aspects of your life?  How is this comforting and reassuring to you?
A: I think it means that failure is okay. I can stumble and fall while I’m learning. I think that’s a part of learning. It must be, otherwise I don’t think Father in Heaven would’ve sent me to a fallen world. I need to live in a fallen world in order to learn that God will always be there for me when I fall and not just when I make the right choices. This is comforting. I’ve feared failure for as long as I can remember. I fear it because I don’t want to disappoint others. I [now] believe that my failures don’t disappoint God; instead, He empathizes with me when I fail. Perhaps He loves me even more when I fail, like the love I feel for my daughter when she’s doing the best she can. In those moments I feel proudest of her.

I think this relates to what happened and how I felt the other morning when Isla honestly thought she had waited to wake me till the sun came up. She was sad because she felt she had disappointed me, when in reality I was feeling a surge of love and understanding for her. I felt proud of her sincere efforts to do what she, her mother, and I had been working on together. Her sincerity and actions merited my praise, not my disappointment. Perhaps my Heavenly Father feels this way about me when I sincerely approach Him and fall short of perfection.”

I believe this principle to be true. I felt it when I learned it in that moment of prayerful study, and I’ve felt it multiple times since then.

I just can’t get over how much He loves me—how much He loves all His children. There’s no end to that. There’s no limit to His mercy. Isn’t that amazing? His love doesn’t run out after one-too-many (or five-hundred-too-many) relapses or angry outbursts or failed attempts at recovery. No, now I believe that He loves me best when I falter. He mourns with me when I struggle. And He forgives me time and time again when I approach Him with full purpose of heart, hiding nothing from Him, and being willing to do anything He asks of me. I’m learning that sincerity means a great deal to God, especially when we fail while sincerely approaching Him.

The prophet Zenos wrote the following, which captures well the thoughts and feelings of my heart:

“And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 33:11).

Honesty

understand-despair-Savior

 

After two years of attending addiction recovery meetings and nearly fifteen years of wrestling this beast called addiction, I can finally and gratefully admit defeat.

This is Step 1 of the addiction recovery program, originally inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous’ (“AA”) 12 Steps:

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

I did not want to admit that I am powerless to overcome my addictions and that I can’t control of my life. That concept goes against what I’ve believed all my life. In many ways it contradicts what my culture (including common but not official beliefs within Mormonism) espouses…

Self-reliance. Independence. A strong will can overcome anything. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish. God will never give you more than you can handle. Some accomplishments might take longer than others, but anyone can ultimately achieve the same things with enough time and hard work. You just have to want it badly enough.

I tell you what, breaking free of those beliefs is tough. I’ve struggled vainly to hold on to them. I completely bought into the idea that I can do this, I can overcome my addiction… “keep on trucking, Michael, because you can do this. Just work harder. You’ll figure this out.” I meant well by trying to believe these ideas. I thought I was supposed to.

I am so, so very grateful that God is teaching me to abandon these powerfully appealing false doctrines.

Here’s an excerpt from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual:

“… the addiction was destroying our lives. When we honestly looked at the past, we admitted that nothing we had tried on our own had worked. We acknowledged how the addiction had only gotten worse. We realized how much our addictions had damaged relationships and robbed us of any sense of worth. At this point, we took the first step toward freedom and recovery by finding the courage to admit that we were not just dealing with a problem or a bad habit. We finally admitted the truth that our lives had become unmanageable and that we needed help to overcome our addictions. The amazing thing about this honest realization of defeat was that recovery finally began (page 1, emphasis added).

I just can’t get enough of those words! An honest realization of my defeat has liberated me from my pride and self will.

Until one month ago I would’ve challenged such notions… “Defeat? Who finds inspiration from admitting defeat? No, I’m strong! I can do this! I just haven’t figured it out yet, but I will!”  I toiled and cried and doubted and clawed my way through my addiction. I white-knuckled with a fierce commitment to sobriety. And I relapsed countless times. Interestingly, I thought I had already completed Step 1, but I hadn’t admitted defeat.

I pleaded and begged for God to help me. And He did help me. He blessed me with debilitating depression. He blessed me to feel and be utterly spent. He blessed me with exhaustion. He loves me so much that He let me break. He let me lose. He blessed me to see that I lost my war on addiction. I was defeated.

Never, not in my entire existence (I honestly feel that I can make this statement) have I ever felt so defeated and beaten as I did one month ago. I didn’t have any strength left. I had nothing left to give. I’ve ran up mountains (literally). I’ve served a full-time mission with every ounce of energy I had in me (I slept for a very long time after returning home). I’ve worked forty hours a week while attending college full-time with a wife and a baby. I’ve been poor enough to worry about how we were going to eat our next meal. I’ve contemplated suicide. But nothing beat me like addiction beat me. This was my very own “rock bottom,” as AA puts it.

In the very moment that I conceded defeat—in the very moment—God was there to lift me up. I didn’t feel a surge of hope or faith that everything would be alright. I only felt love from Him. I felt that despite my complete defeat, He was not condemning me. He was not forsaking me. In my moment of despair, He showed me that He will never stop loving me. That’s when I finally surrendered to my God. Yes, addiction won and I lost. But that didn’t have to be the end of it. No, I have the most powerful and loving Being in the universe on my side, and He’ll never abandon me. I now feel like I know this truth better than I know my own name.

So I’m no longer fighting this battle on my own because I’m no longer fighting according to my plans. I’m no longer struggling to win my way. My way lost. My way led to deeper addiction, more anger, and hardened pride. My will and not Thine be done was my way. “I’ll figure this out, and I’ll ask you for help when I really need it.” I’m leaving all that behind now, and I’ve never felt so free.

Now I work the steps of recovery every day and together with my Lord and Savior we are winning! We are moving forward. I still have rough days. I still have need to repent almost every minute, but I’m no longer losing against my addiction because I’m no longer trying to fight it on my own. I don’t have to win or lose anymore. I just need to learn to trust my Heavenly Father and in His power to deliver me.

And here’s the miracle: He knew that I would lose. He knew that I would desperately need divine help. He knew that I would literally need saving. That’s why He gave me a Savior! That’s why He offered His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice for my sins and fallen nature. He didn’t let His Son die because He thought I was a failure but because He knew I would fail, and He couldn’t let me fail without any hope of recovery. That doesn’t contradict the fact that He thinks the world of me as one of His children—it supports it! It’s the epitome of loving support.

God let His Son, Jesus Christ, die for me because He loves me. And Jesus Christ died for me because He loves me, too. I am that important to God. I am worth the best blood this world has ever seen (I think I heard someone use that expression before, but I can’t find it).

Twenty-seven days ago I went to http://www.arpsupport.org out of desperation. I asked for a sponsor and I got one. I thank my Father in Heaven for leading me to do that. My sponsor helps me to be rigorously honest and not overlook the details. He’s helping me work the steps of recovery thoroughly. He shows me that he cares and doesn’t condemn. He understands what I’m going through and he’s helping me come to know that Jesus Christ understands what I’m going through.

As it turns out, the steps really do work when I work the steps. I need to work them constantly, every day. That simply means I need my Savior constantly, every day. My Higher Power is my only way out of this, and I’m learning to do it His way.

Tonight in a group addiction support meeting I heard the most profound and sincere declaration that I’ve ever heard, and I heard it from a fellow addict in recovery: “Today I know that God loves me.” He was overcome with emotion, as were we all. I’m so grateful God led me to that meeting tonight so that I could learn from my fellow addict brother. I add my testimony to his, that today I know that God loves me. I owe everything to Him. I love Him!

“I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Book of Mormon, Alma 26:11-12).