One of my friends posted this article on Facebook today. I didn’t get through reading all of it because as I got through the first few sections I had so many thoughts flooding my mind that I needed to stop reading and finish my own pondering. In particular this is what she said that really stuck out to me –
In my religion, we classify these decisions as “sins” but I’m going to use a different word. I want you to see sin differently. That is the reason I am being open and honest about this. Let’s talk about sin in a more realistic way. Sin is Pain. Over the past four years I decided to put myself through a lot of pain. This pain kept me from the temple; a place where I found so much peace and all of a sudden I was not allowed to go inside, let alone publicly pray in my own congregation… Sin really is pain. It causes pain. So let’s be more compassionate about how we look at pain because most of us are feeling a lot of it and it’s hard to find that motivation and love for ourselves so that we can allow the pain to heal and go away
I really liked her modified definition of sin as being pain. I think too often as a church we tend to think of sin as bad things that people do that are detrimental to others. But the truth is that most sin is most harmful to the person committing the sin, not to anyone else. There’s a scripture that I stumbled upon several years ago that has changed my view of the gospel. It was Doctrine & Covenants 59:4 and it reads (with my added emphasis) –
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.
When I read that I think my jaw literally dropped. Crowned with commandments? Wait, you mean like the commandments are something we should want in our lives? The whole idea up front seemed absurd to me. Commandments were things we were told to do or not to do, they restrict us and make our life difficult. The whole challenge of life is to keep the commandments and that’s hard… isn’t that the point? Suddenly though I understood the commandments differently. We don’t get blessed for keeping the commandments – the commandments themselves are the blessing. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, but after reading this it seemed so obvious. Of course the commandments are blessings! What are we taught in 2 Nephi 2:25?
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
If God’s whole purpose is to help us to obtain a fullness of joy then it makes perfect sense that the commandments are meant to bring us joy, not to restrict us or cause us pain. I guess in some sense I’d understood that. I knew that I was happiest when I kept the commandments. I knew that the results of the commandments made me happy but I hadn’t made the connection that it was directly the commandments that made me happy. I guess I’m really thick but that took me awhile to really understand.
I was thinking on that with an experience that my little brother is going through right now. In the last few years he’s made some choices that have not always been in keeping with the teachings of the church. I don’t want to share too much of his story because I don’t feel it’s mine to tell, but as a result he eloped a couple years back and wasn’t able to be sealed to his wife on his wedding day or have a traditional wedding. However, in the time since then he and his wife have worked together and gotten themselves to a place where they are going to be able to be sealed in a couple of weeks. Since they didn’t have any sort of traditional wedding the first time around my parents have decided to celebrate their sealing day like they would have liked to have celebrated their wedding day under different circumstances. We’ll be going as a family to the temple, taking pictures, and having a reception-like party in the evening. Whatever you’d expect as part of a regular wedding celebration we’re trying to do for their sealing, because this choice and the journey they’ve made is a big deal.
I’ve heard the attitude this is inappropriate. That they missed out on that opportunity to have a reception because they chose to elope and that this is *not* a wedding and we shouldn’t be treating it like it is. I think these people don’t understand this concept of sin as being pain. Yes, I felt slighted to not be a part of my brother’s wedding the first time around. But you know who was really caused the most pain from that decision? My brother, not me. His decision didn’t take anything away from my wedding day with Eric, or make it so that our experience of being celebrated on that day was any less. His decision didn’t take away from the way that I was able to start my marriage with eternal covenants with the man I love. The decisions and sacrifices I made to do things the “right” way the first time around have brought me JOY, and lots of it. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. He only took those things away from him himself. There are plenty of ways that he has already cheated himself and had to go through a lot of pain to get to the place that he is right now. You know who knows that best? My brother. So, now that he’s gone through all of that pain and suffering, why would I want to deny him any part of the blessings that I was able to enjoy?
Why do we insist on the attitude of the righteous brother from the parable of the prodigal son? He chose to remove himself from the celebration because it wasn’t fair that his father was celebrating his unrighteous son’s return in a flashier way than the steady righteousness of his other son. But what do we learn in that parable from the Savior himself? In Luke 15:31-32 we hear the response of the father –
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The righteous son hadn’t missed out on any blessings, he already had all that his father had. But for some reason he felt slighted that his father would celebrate the other son’s return to the fold. I think many of us still hold that same attitude. I think as a church, and as people in general we need to stop thinking that we need to punish people for their sins, or make them realize what they missed out on. We need to realize that sin *is* its own consequence. God doesn’t need us to judge people or make them feel less than worthy, he needs us to love each other and celebrate when we do something right. In President Uchtdorf’s most recent conference address he extended this invitation:
To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
I think the subtext to those who have been faithful members in the church is – make that place. Do everything in your power to make those who haven’t always been on the straight and narrow feel loved, accepted and welcomed. Do not make them feel ostracized for the things they’ve done wrong – they already know! No one in this church, or on this world for that matter, is perfect. So don’t feel like you need to make it any worse for someone because of their particular failings. You know your own shortcomings and I doubt anyone needs to tell you of the pain they cause you. So please don’t exacerbate anyone else’s pain by making them feel unworthy of the blessings they’ve worked so hard for. It may not be the same way that you got there but it doesn’t make their journey any less valid. In the words from another favorite talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland –
Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?”
The next time you feel slighted because someone is getting a blessing that you feel maybe they don’t deserve or haven’t worked or sacrificed for the way you did, I want you to apply President Uchtdorf’s iconic advice from Conference of April 2012–
Choose to love others and to be grateful for the commandments that you’ve been blessed to keep. Be grateful that you didn’t have to go through the pain of sin that others have had to go through, and rejoice for those who have made their way back into the fold.