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This week’s Come Follow Me manual introduces the scripture block by speaking about how the Pharisees had made the gospel extremely burdensome with their added rules. We find an example of them getting upset that Jesus and his disciples were plucking corn and eating it on the Sabbath Day. This lesson is taught both indirectly by Christ’s example during this situation as well as directly through His teaching:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Now this message just so happened to be timely for me. As I sat in stake conference this weekend, the general authority who was serving opened the meeting up to questions. One man asked, “Is the gospel hard to live?” He used a lot more words than that, and I believe he was feeling what many of us often feel: it is too much. I’m burnt out. I don’t know if this is sustainable for the rest of my life. Maybe that sentiment is combined with, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” I feel like a great many of us have experienced times of uncertainty as to whether we are celestial material; this gospel stuff can take a lot out of you.
These feelings seem to be in direct contrast to what Christ just taught. So here is my question for you: do you think it is difficult to live the gospel? Maybe even take a second to pause here and write your feelings about that question. Do not be afraid to be honest. It is only in being authentic that we find truth.
So what is my answer to this question? Is living the gospel difficult?
Mmmmm yes? And no. Definitely both. Let’s talk about it.
A short history
When I was younger, I placed immense pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. I would list everything that was wrong with me during the sacrament on Sundays, and I would hold onto the guilt in hopes that it would push me to never make those mistakes (or to banish those personality flaws). What can I say…I was an intense person. If you had asked me as a teenager or young adult if it was difficult to live the gospel, I probably would have said no. I believed that the gospel shouldn’t be hard to live, and so that’s how I answered. However, I was still unhappy in many ways (gee…I wonder why).
As I’ve grown older, the Savior has taken me on a journey of doctrines and beliefs that have changed how I feel (like all the way down in my heart and not just in my head) about the gospel being hard to live. It changed how I felt about the idea of being worthy, of being prepared to enter into the celestial kingdom.
I have learned a couple of doctrines that have completely changed how I live the gospel. I learned them, and I chose to believe they applied in my life. In many ways, it has made the gospel much more fulfilling. And because it’s more fulfilling, it’s much easier to live. Here are a few of those doctrines:
1. There is no debt. Christ paid all of it. Nobody has debt. Even those who are not currently repenting do not have debt; Christ paid it for them too. Whether we make it to heaven will not be determined how many sins we have committed or how much debt we accrued because there is no longer any debt. We all have a blank slate because it’s all gone.
2. Now…if there is no debt because it’s all paid for, does that mean actions don’t matter? Heck no. Actions do matter. However, ACTIONS ONLY MATTER TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY CHANGE YOU. Being worthy of heaven is whether you have changed into the kind of person who belongs there. Judgment Day will not be a scale in which they weigh your choices; we will be judged by who we have become.
3. What this means is that you can do wrong things “right.” When you make a mistake (whether sins of commission or omission), you can do what I used to do: hold it over your own head for extreme amounts of time. This is the wrong way. This is not making you a better person. If you are looking to get into the Celestial Kingdom, and you get into the Celestial Kingdom by becoming a good person, and holding onto your past mistakes is not making you a better person, then you are not moving towards your goal. This is not allowing you to live the kind of life that Christ wanted you to live. You are forcing yourself to live as though there had been no atonement made. There was a time on my mission when my companion and I made it home late, and I confided in her that I was concerned because I wasn’t feeling any guilt. She shrugged and said, “Maybe the Spirit knows you don’t need the guilt to be better.” Becoming a good person does not require specific, prolonged amounts of unhappiness. In fact, a lot of the time it can make it worse. Repentance allows you to take those mistakes and turn them into moments in which you’re actually coming closer to Christ, not drawing further away. Mistakes and even sin can be turned into something beautiful (a lesson, gratitude, humility, closer relationship to Christ) because of the atonement. It is a true doctrine that sin separates you from Christ. It is also a true doctrine that sin combined with repentance and the atonement has the ability to bring you closer to Christ than before.
4. It also means you can do right things wrong. There was a time in my marriage where I was irritated with my husband (can’t remember why), and I decided that I was going to be Christlike and serve him even though I was mad at him. I took him breakfast in bed. But as I look back on that supposedly charitable action, I now know that it wasn’t charitable at all. It actually just made me angrier and self-righteous. ACTIONS ONLY MATTER TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY CHANGE YOU. Hence, we can do all the things but we are still nothing without charity. When I stand at Judgment Day, God won’t necessarily care about specific actions. He will care about who we became.
5. So when you get to the other side, you are going to stand before your brothers and sisters completely stripped of all the worldly things that made you different. It won’t matter what your house looked like, what money you had, or how physically active you were. You will be on completely equal footing and all you will have is who you are. There will also be no secrets. You will know how they feel about you, and they will know how you feel about them. Will your feelings toward your fellow man create a heavenly space? Will it make you feel happy to stand on equal ground, surrounded by people? Or will you find yourself in “hell” because who you are is not something you want broadcasted?
6. Have you heard the quote that the millennium can start right now in your homes? Well, you can also choose to live in hell. You can choose to do all the right things and simultaneously be miserable because you refuse to let the atonement brighten your life. How do you think heaven feels? Allow that feeling to permeate your home and life; contribute to that feeling and you’ll find yourself just fine on Judgment Day.
7. So maybe you now feel comfortable with the fact that you make mistakes…but what about flaws? Perhaps you feel like you can’t shake them, that who you have become still isn’t good enough. The Lord has taught me that personal flaws were an essential ingredient to the Plan of Salvation. I have knelt and prayed and asked the Lord to take away my flaws and He has answered me this: I do not take away your weakness because you need opposition to grow to be like Me. When we get to the other side, temptations will be taken away and what will be left is your desire to overcome those temptations and be better.
It’s not about whether you have flaws or make mistakes; it’s about how you manipulate those flaws and mistakes to bring you closer to Christ than you ever were before! Look at Adam and Eve; they had to sin in order to actually become more like Jesus Christ. Take the pressure off of yourself. Embrace the fact that the Lord meant for you to be imperfect, and turn those mistakes into beautiful stepping stones towards Him.
So is it hard to live the gospel? It is always hard to live the gospel incorrectly. It’s hard to beat yourself up day in and day out, doing all the right things but choosing to live in hell anyway.
In some ways, it’s difficult to live the gospel correctly as well. It is infinitely harder to swallow my pride as I’m carrying breakfast to my husband in bed. It’s much harder to get over my own flaws and issues and pray for help to do the right thing in the right way. It’s harder to remind myself day in and day out to focus on everyone else except myself. It’s harder to do good things for good reasons.
But it is infinitely happier, which makes it easier. Or at least more worth it.
It is happier because as I’m walking up those steps with that breakfast for my husband, I trust and know that I can tell Heavenly Father that I’m irritated and He will help me. It is happier because by the time I make it to my room, I give breakfast to my husband and I cuddle him rather than sitting in “hell” because I’m still angry.
Sin and flaws are not scary when you truly believe in the atonement; you can live without that fear and pressure you’re carrying.
We believe in a loving God who is a perfect judge. He knows you as you are, and He wants you to live happier. The commandments are tools, not weapons to beat yourself up with. They are tools that are meant to refine your character; if you’re using them to beat yourself up, you’re using them wrong. Let’s say someone gives you a hammer to go build a house. You accidentally put a nail in wrong? Do you hit yourself over the head with the hammer? No! It doesn’t help build the house! I’m fact, it incapacitates you from building the house!
Use the commandments to build yourself, never to tear yourself down with unnecessary amounts of guilt or pressure. Live the gospel in the way the Lord wants you to, with rejoicing and peace and gratitude and humility and a smile towards your Savior for making it all possible.