March 27-April 2
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Now there is a story that many of us have heard a million times, but I want to summarize it so that we can see a common pattern in our own lives.
In John 6, we read about an impotent man who wanted to be healed at the pool of Bethesda. Apparently there was a superstition that an angel would come down, trouble the water, and whoever touched the water first would get healed. The Savior asks this man, “Are you going to be healed?” The man replies, “There isn’t anyone to lift me in quickly, and I can’t get in fast enough on my own.” Christ tells him to take up his bed and walk, and the man is made whole and does so. Then the Jews get mad and tell the man that he’s disobeying the Law of Moses for carrying his bed on the Sabbath.
Let’s look at this story and how it applies to our own lives.
We are all converts
We are all converts. Even if you’ve grown up in the church, you have had to walk a path of learning, testimony moments, and epiphanies. If you grew up in the church, your journey was likely much longer than those who were born in a different faith. However, we all had to take a journey. As part of this journey, we likely had misconceptions about how the gospel worked or about who Christ was. We likely had misconceptions about commandments, their purposes, and cultural practices that were often made to seem like commandments.
In the institute manual, Bruce R. McConkie is very clear that this angel-troubling-the-water notion is false doctrine. The man who stayed near the water’s edge had likely put a lot of hope into that idea. This man was also likely aware of the Law of Moses and accompanying Pharisaical laws. He abandoned both when he was given the truth.
As the Pharisees approached this newly healed man in scorn, demanding to know why he was breaking the Sabbath, he was like, “The guy who healed me told me to pick up my bed and so here we are.”
Imagine the power of following truth in that manner.
Abandoning old notions
I remember an experience on my mission in which we brought along a convert to help with a lesson. Our investigator had been facing a lot of opposition in the form of anti-material from his family, and the convert we brought was especially equipped to deal with this. He had been starting an anti-Mormon ministry at his church when he met with missionaries and got baptized.
There were countless times on my mission (and since then) that we would be teaching someone who would get frightened away by anti-material. It really struck me that this convert had been willing to step away. He recalled being terrified of eternal fire and brimstone even as he stepped into the waters of baptism.
I wonder if our friend at the pool of Bethesda likewise found himself nervous when approached by members of the religious elite.
I often wondered if I would have had the gumption to follow what I was feeling, and so I tried to honestly picture myself leaving the church if I had felt guided by the Lord in another direction. If I sincerely felt the Spirit pulling me in another direction, would I be brave enough to leave something I had been taught to believe my entire life?
I hope so. I hope that I would be willing to go wherever the Lord leads me.
Letting go of misconceptions
Though I don’t believe the Lord is going to lead me away from the church anytime soon, I do believe that He has been leading me down a path of examining my beliefs very carefully to see which are accurate and which are not.
This requires some faith as there have been times in my past when I’ve been afraid that I was abandoning the truth by questioning.
Here are a couple of verses from John.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
This man grew up at a time where Sabbath Days were intensely regulated, and here comes Jesus telling him to pick up his bed and walk. Immediately the man is healed. I believe that there are many things we hold onto that are actually keeping us from drawing closer to the Savior and healing.
Rather than talking about specific examples of things we hold on to, I want to talk about what causes us to hold to them so tightly. Namely, fear. Because fear is a tool of Satan, it does two things: It can cause us to hold on to false notions, and it can cause us to eventually abandon our good ones.
So first: It can cause us to hold on to false notions.
Imagine the following tragic scenario. Christ approaches the impotent man, tells him to take up his bed and walk, and the man is too afraid to try and pick up his bed. He’s too afraid that the Pharisees will get angry. Seems kinda silly, but we do it often enough on a smaller level.
I use this example frequently, but it’s probably because it’s changed my life the most: I was often too afraid to question the levels of guilt that I was heaping on myself. I thought that I needed to hold onto that guilt in order to properly repent and change. Interestingly enough, the more I laid down the unnecessary guilt, the faster I was healed.
Second: It can eventually cause us to abandon our good notions.
Fear is not a good enough reason to do something. Fear may be pushing you to do a good thing, but if your reasoning continues to be your fear, you will likely eventually abandon the good thing.
Many people wear their garments for fear of breaking temple covenants. Many people avoid doing certain things on the Sabbath for fear of being judged. Many people avoid reading anti-material for fear that it will draw them away from the church.
Like I said, a lot of us are doing good things for bad reasons. Eventually, we recognize the futility of that reasoning. Oftentimes, we also recognize the damage caused by that kind of reasoning, and we start to blame the commandments rather than the true culprit: fear.
As people finally say, “Enough is enough,” they find themselves unburdened by that fear. It’s a good feeling, and it becomes associated with letting go of the good notions. I believe this is the concept labeled as religious trauma. There is trauma related to living the gospel in a way that utilizes fear, but it is not the gospel itself that is traumatic.
In a day and age where the younger generation is more readily recognizing the danger of fear, we have to step up our teaching. We have to step up our own reasoning. We have to abandon our fear and live the gospel with love and faith. Abandoning fear may mean mistakes, but we’re making mistakes anyway. We may as well not let those mistakes keep us from healing through the power of Christ.
Abandoning fear allows us to follow the miracles. It allows us to shed notions that are false, and it allows us to do good things in healthy ways. When we can relinquish fear and replace it with faith, we will find far more light and warmth and healing than we previously experienced.