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There are two different kinds of positive reinforcement that a child can receive when they do something good. One is artificial (but not bad!), and the other is completely natural. If my daughter is kind to her little brother, I can give her a jelly bean. This is artificial; it’s not a natural consequence. If my daughter is kind to her little brother, she can feel good inside. That is the type of consequence we experience in eternity. We also experience it here on earth to a degree as well. Christ lives a celestial life, and the consequences of living a celestial life are celestial blessings. They naturally come together. The phrase, “Wickedness never was happiness,” says this well. There are artificial consequences that come with some of our choices here on earth, but eventually the artificial consequences will fade. It will be the natural consequences that remain.
In Section 88, the Lord shares the following:
Doctrine and Covenants 88:32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
So this verse is talking about a specific group of people, and it might be confusing at first when taken out of context. However, it teaches a principle at the end that applies to each of us at whatever stage we find ourselves. We will receive what we are willing to receive. Make your choices based on the consequences you want to receive.
We will receive what we are willing to receive physically. In verses 27-31, the Lord teaches that people will be resurrected with spirits that hold different qualities. Those spirits that can abide a celestial law will receive a celestial body. Those spirits that can abide a terrestrial law will receive a terrestrial body, and so on and so forth. There are differences in the resurrected bodies we will possess depending on what kind of lives we chose to lead and how our choices changed who we are. Glory will come naturally to those who lead lives filled with light. This is also a doctrine taught in Doctrine and Covenants 88. In verse 40, we are taught that light cleaveth unto light.
Light cleaveth unto light. Light is drawn to other light. I know this is true because it doesn’t only occur in the eternities. It occurs here on earth too. In the eternities, the glory we are willing to receive will naturally come to us when we are resurrected. Here on earth, light will find its way into the mortal bodies of those who have become like Christ. Let me highlight this truth with two stories.
Now, many of us have heard the story about when the church was trying to build a BYU center in Jerusalem. In order to do so, they had to sign an agreement not to proselyte there. After the signing occurred, one of the men present remarked something along the lines of, “We know you won’t proselyte here, but what will you do about the light in their eyes of the students?”
I heard that story and loved that story as a child. I was lucky enough to have a personal experience with this eternal truth.
Cody (names have changed) was a friend of mine from high school who found himself surrounded by friends who were members of the church. At that time, he was not a member. He was in orchestra and found himself sitting by a girl who I shall call Jenna. He talked to her occasionally and one day asked her, “Are you a Mormon?” She replied with, “Yes,” and “How did you know?” He answered her question with a response that has never left me. He said, “You have the same shiny eyes.” I remember the day he was baptized; he asked me if he had gotten shiny eyes.
We read about Moses whose countenance was like lightning after he returned from speaking from the Lord. There was an account given by Mary Elizabeth Rollins of how Joseph Smiths’ countenance changed as he received revelation. We literally begin to reflect the Lord in our faces when we live like Him. Natural consequences of our actions simply follow us, and we receive what we are willing to receive.
Emotionally and Spiritually
We live in a fallen world where there are many inequalities. Rich or poor, enslaved or free, joy or suffering. There are people on wide ends of each spectrum. I feel as though I have been constantly pondering on what will happen when we all suddenly find ourselves on equal grounds. What will happen when the money and status and power are taken away? What will happen when everyone is free and stands before each other as equals? What will distinguish us from each other?
Nothing but our choices and the natural consequences that come with those choices. We will receive the feelings of happiness or misery that we are willing to receive.
When we have all been placed on equal ground, we will no longer have the numbing effects that can often accompany whole-hearted pursuits of earthly treasures. There will be no earthly comforts to make us feel better if we have made wrong choices to get ahead in life. We will only have our choices to comfort or torment us.
I will wholeheartedly admit that the natural consequences that come with our choices are much easier to distinguish after we die. It will be much easier to see whether our choices bring happiness or misery after we have all died and been placed on equal grounds. It’s much easier to distract ourselves with temporary pleasures here on earth, BUT I also assert the truth that the natural consequences have still begun in this life.
Look at anyone who is rich for the evidence (and while I’m using the example of riches, this can apply to any earthly pursuit). When you place your heart on money or anything like money, you will notice how empty it can feel. Some rich people are still trying to make more and more money to fill a void. Some rich people are still living for temporary pleasures that only bring joy for so long. Some have turned to other earthly pleasures to distract them from the emptiness of money. It’s not all negative though. There are still many who have found purpose and meaning and deep happiness in being generous and doing good. The truth here is that money, power, or fame cannot truly fill you for any extended period of time. Prolonged, even eternal, happiness comes in loving other people.
On a much smaller scale, I know it from my own experience. When I’ve been doing too much online shopping, I start to feel that emptiness. It’s much harder to get excited about getting something new, and there’s a piece of me that wants to buy more. I’ve learned that if I take a step back, I can stop a negative, downward spiral. I can find a depth of happiness elsewhere. The hollowness I sometimes find can be filled when I spend time with God, my family, or my dear friends. We are already receiving what we are willing to receive.
Whether we are seeking after earthly pleasures or eternal treasures, we are receiving exactly what we’re asking for. This is an eternal principle in and out of the church. Those within the church and outside of the church can find true happiness in living Christlike lives. Whether you believe in Christ or not, if you are living generously like He did, you find happiness like He did. Test it out yourself. Live outside of yourself and see if you find yourself filled; find out what you receive when you live that way.
I know that there are plenty of people who are trying to live like the Savior but simultaneously feel very far away from heaven. Be patient and return to the basics. First of all, remember that even Christ felt distanced from His Father in heaven. Let go of everything you feel like you need to be doing and simply focus on your relationship with God as your Father. I testify that He loves and adores you. I testify that He is closer than you may feel at this moment, just as He was near Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He is intimately involved in the details of your life, intricately carving out experiences and circumstances that will help you draw closer to Him. As you grow in your knowledge of how much He loves you, that feeling of heaven will come.
Choose to receive celestial blessings now. Choose to utilize the atonement and trust that the Savior can continually wipe your slate clean over and over. Choose to ignore Satan when he tells you that you’ll never be good enough. When you are treated unfairly, choose to forgive others and live in harmony with as many people as you can. Choose to live heavenly lives (minus the eternal glory) now. Choose to live happy lives now. Choose to receive what God has already offered you. Remember that even if you are already choosing the right, you also have to choose to receive the blessings He has offered.