Saturday, December 22, 2012

Have You Been Validated?

My Uncle Bruce was a famed psychologist. He often spoke about the need for children to "have their ticket punched" by their parents. By that expression, he meant parents held in their hands the indispensable key to their children's existence. If parents believe their children have value and they are able to transmit that belief to them, children can go on to becoming worthwhile and productive adults. Withholding that validation sometimes proves ruinous to the development of children.

Like the train conductor in the Polar Express, "punching someone's ticket" by recognizing their innate worth as a marvelous human being, though flawed, is liberating. Let's be honest, we're all flawed beyond hope, we're all sinners, except as we are redeemed in the perfection of Christ through our sincere repentance and reliance upon Him.

The stories are legion of parents who neglect their children. Sometimes that neglect is overt and openly hostile. We've been watching a lot of Christmas movies this month where the theme has been the destructive separation that occurs in families when parents and children become estranged. We've witnessed so many contrived and seemingly petty plot lines this month. Of course, in all Christmas movies there must be conflict, resolution and happy endings. But sometimes in life it is not always so simple. Everyone in real life will tell you "it's complicated." The dynamics of human relations are always complicated, and by design we get ample experimental lab material to work on - that material comes to us in the form of parents, children, siblings and in-laws. Each of us has what sometimes seems like an inexhaustible supply, and we would wish for less if we could escape having to deal with "Uncle Harry" in our life. However, we are expected to experiment on each other until we, not they sometimes, get it right. It's Heavenly Father's plan for us.

And life is fleeting. We have all learned in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that even the most innocent children can be snatched away in death in an instant. There are no guarantees when we live in a world where evil is ever-present before us.

Spouses are separated, become indifferent to each other and become strangers, even enemies of each other in some cases, when love at the altar was first sealed in their marriage vows. Husbands who were once loving and treated their wives well become angry and bitter. They are repeatedly warned by Church leaders that they will be held accountable for every tear their wife sheds that can be traced to him as the cause. Protecting and cherishing that most important of all human relationships with our spouses is paramount.

Parents often reject their offspring for a host of reasons. Once filled with hope and a positive outlook for their children, parents become disillusioned over the lack of "acceptable performance" in their children. And that is a highly subjective standard. It is hard sometimes for parents to communicate adequately what those standards look like, and confusion and resentment result. Instead of helping their children's development, they will often look outside their family circle for examples of other people's children who are excelling and achieving. To the detriment of their own children, parents will cite others as the shining example and sometimes without even knowing what they are doing destroy the self worth of their own children.

Children often look at their parents and see all the warts, the hypocrisy and the double standards their parents deploy to impress others at the expense of their integrity. Honesty, which earnest parents once sought to instill in their offspring, is sacrificed for one worthy contingency after another. Children lose confidence in parents, when all that was necessary was a proper teaching about the gospel of self-awareness and repentance. Admitting one's own flaws and demonstrating a desire to do better through deeds, not mere words, does much to bolster confidence of children in their parents.

Once again, that is a highly subjective standard. Most parents will fail in those judgments their children make about them. Children can judge harshly and unfairly, often failing to recognize pure motives where there was no intentional desire by the parents to harm them. What so often happens is that parents and children become estranged because of distance in miles from each other. It becomes easier and easier to stay away, to distance themselves from each other in ways that go beyond the miles of separation. Emotional support for one another erodes until there is no relationship left.

There are such simple acts of kindness we are willing to bestow upon total strangers, but withhold from our "less worthy" family members. For years, expressions of love and validation are sparingly dispensed if at all. Time stretches into years. You've all seen the movie plots. So many of them are based upon true stories.

In those true stories sometimes there is never a reconciliation at Christmas time or any other time. We mortals are prone to hold grudges, pass judgments, and write people off without so much as a preliminary hearing from them. We are more confident in our own judgments and decrees against those in our families than we ever are when we hear similar stories about total strangers. Why is that?

I can't help wondering if it is because Satan has as his stated purpose the work of destroying families in every way imaginable. The legalization of gay marriage is guaranteed to produce no offspring. From the moment Adam and Eve set foot in the garden of Eden, he has always known if he could separate the man from the woman he could thwart the plan of salvation, which is dependent upon "the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39 and Moses 4). In order to bring about immortality and eternal life, there must first be mortal life, created in partnership with God by a man and a woman united in the holy bonds of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

So in this effusive spirit of Christmas goodness and perfection, try validating those closest to you. Instead of making them pass some sort of litmus test of your own devising, try suspending judgment. Try forgiveness. Try saying the words, "Will you forgive me?" Or better, "I forgive you." Or if they've never heard you say it before, "I'm sorry." My mother used to refer to those as "magic words."

They are magic because they have healing power. They validate. They punch someone's ticket.

And when you say them, make sure there's a smile on your face.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's December - "Are You Ready for Christmas?"

"Are you ready for Christmas?" The question reverberates around the globe every year at this time. "Ready for Christmas?" It seems the pressure mounts to reach for the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect present, the perfect recipe, the perfect Christmas dinner. In short, it's a time of magical fantasy dreams and wishes.

December at its end always looks different than at the beginning, doesn't it? We love Christmas at our house. Patsy has over a hundred nativity scenes, and she loves to put them all out all over the house. The preparations, the decorations, the lights, the tree, the advent candles, all of it represents an attempt to recapture the innocence of a perfect time in our childhood. It fills us with anticipation that at the darkest time of the year, the end of December, we may seek and find the Light of the world if we focus on Him. The aftermath of Christmas morning rarely lives up to its fullest potential on December 1st, it seems. But we try year after year to recapture the magical moments of youth. A simpler time, a simpler set of expectations, a simpler life.

As we grow older, Patsy and I have evolved into something from "Back to the Future." Alone, just the two of us in our large family home once filled with children, their friends, and non-stop parties, we have now defaulted to the Hallmark Channel for its barrage of cheesy Christmas perfection. I tease her that every Christmas movie plot involves a winning and predictable formula - two star-crossed lovers, conflict of some kind, resolution, kissing and always a scene at the end with snow gently falling all around. The funniest thing about the snow scene is that it happens even in Arizona and California. Perfect.

The embodiment of the Christmas ideal is the perfection we find in Jesus Christ. He is the only human being (half human, half God), who came to Earth and never succumbed to the wiles of Satan. Good and evil were with us from the beginning, when Satan rebelled against the Father's plan of happiness for His children and took "a third part" of Heavenly Father's spirit children down with him. Forever denied access to a physical body, the essential element of the plan, they continue to afflict and torment man. But in Christ we have the perfect Prototype of salvation.

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith posed the question in the Lectures on Faith: "We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude, as to the answer of this question, there will be no dispute among those who believe the Bible, that it is Christ; all will agree in this, that He is the prototype or standard of salvation." (Lecture 7).

In Christ we have the perfect example of how to live. We reach for it, we aspire unto it, yet as Paul reminds us, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).

I believe it is in the reaching, the stretching, the yearning for perfection that we are sanctified and purified. Rather than become discouraged, disheartened or disappointed in our lack of achievement against the standard of perfection, we must embrace our fallen natures, acknowledge our weakness and our need for Christ. We must confess our stupidity on so many levels, rather than break ourselves against the wall of the law. So many within my sphere of influence have given up, left the Church, walked away from the attempt, claiming it's just futile, inconceivable and elusive beyond man's ability to comprehend. To which I respond, "That's exactly what we are supposed to see and understand about ourselves."

No great business enterprise prospered and succeeded without a vision of the impossible. Once the vision is set before us, the solutions begin to present themselves as we attempt to climb higher to our goals. Without the struggle, without the courage to try, without dependency upon a higher power than our own, nothing can be accomplished that is worthwhile. Growth comes in the stretching beyond our native abilities. New ideas present themselves we never would have contemplated but for the reaching higher toward the impossible vision we set for ourselves. Become a god someday myself? Impossible. But it's possible to believe it's possible.

Two of the titles we give to Jesus Christ are Savior and Redeemer. In December, as in no other month, we are reminded of these two titles. "Saved from what?" we might ask. Redeemed from what?

President Harold B. Lee
President Harold B. Lee's favorite chapter of scripture was 2 Nephi 9. In it, he said, was found a more comprehensive treatment of the plan of salvation than anywhere else in scripture. He quoted from it often during his lifetime. Let me give you a sample:

"O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment [see D&C 19:10]. O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." (2 Nephi 9:19-20). "For the atonement satisfieth the demand of his justice upon all those who have not the law given unto them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel." (2 Nephi 9:26).

In those three verses we learn God is merciful to us because He knows us, really KNOWS us down to the cellular level. He delivers us in His mercy from the devil, death and hell. But we must call upon Him for deliverance, and reject the arm of flesh which has nothing to offer us eternally. He saves us and redeems us from those effects of the mortal chaos swirling around us that threatens to destroy us when we come unto Him, repent of our sins and embrace HIS perfection. Trusting in His unseen deliverance is much more difficult than reaching for more dollars in our bank account, but it is the requirement for salvation and redemption. It is reaching for perfection in Him.

We learn even those who inherit the telestial kingdom, a kingdom of glory, are "heirs of salvation" at their level. (D&C 76:88). We are instructed in that day, "These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits on the throne forever and ever." (D&C 76:110).

President Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith gives us just a glimpse of how comprehensive this work of saving and redeeming the souls of men really is:

"I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God. And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation." (D&C 138:57-59).

It is clear from the scriptures what is involved in becoming an "heir of salvation." This is as clear as words can possibly be: "And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul. And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it." (D&C88:16-18).

To be redeemed, anything and everything is possible, even for people who have lost their way. One day, if they repent, they too will be redeemed and saved in the highest degrees of glory:

"And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowerth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption." (Alma 34:16).

Even in the spirit world beyond this life, the work of redemption moves ahead. Spirits of the dead who have departed this life continue to have their moral agency, they may embrace the gospel in its fulness, exercise faith unto repentance, accept the ordinances of the Lord's house including proxy baptism by immersion for the remission of their sins, the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the endowment and sealing ordinances that bind their families to them forever. Performed under the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, these saving ordinances assure men and women a place together as husband and wife in the Patriarchal Order of the priesthood if they are willing to be saved and redeemed under the merciful provisions offered to them by a loving Savior and Redeemer.

Helaman reminds us: "O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto the people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world." (Helaman 5:9).

And what did King Benjamin teach? That we must embrace our fallen natures and turn to Christ:

For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state -
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments,, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body -
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, whichever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you. (Mosiah 4:5-8).

I have written extensively in the past about the word "salvation" being the scriptural equivalent of "eternal life." Even as debilitating as it may seem to some during their mortal probation, the scriptures that speak of salvation and eternal life are extensive and comprehensive. We know very little about the terrestrial and the telestial kingdoms. I wonder if that isn't because our Savior and Redeemer is pointing us higher than we think we can climb. When we come unto Him and partake of His righteousness, we are "ready for Christmas" not just in December but every other day of the year too. (See Moroni 10:32-33).

So, the next time someone asks you, "Are you ready for Christmas?" how will you answer? I hope you'll always say, "Yes, now and forever!" And be sure to say, "Merry Christmas."