Sunday, July 30, 2017

Becoming Broken: The Gift of Guilt


In 1999 my parents hosted a wedding reception for my brother and his new wife at their home.  The night of the reception my mother needed to hold on to a single key.  Fearing she would lose it, she put it in her shoe.  This seemingly small decision would ultimately lead to her death. 

My mother had diabetes and therefore couldn’t feel her feet very well.  She couldn’t feel the key rubbing on the bottom of her foot, which created a blister that got infected.  Two months later she was life flighted to Albuquerque where she had some toes amputated to try to stop the spread of the infection. 

The trauma of the amputation, combined with her neuropathy, caused her to get what is known as Charcot foot.  This is when the bones in your feet become so weak, they break.  My mother had broken feet the rest of her life.1 

As you can probably imagine, the word “broken” was said quite often in our family as a result.  We said it when we explained to people why my mother wore large black walking boots, why she was in a wheelchair, and eventually why she died. 

The word “broken” has felt like a major part of my life.  But in reality, it’s a major part of everyone’s life. 

We see broken things everywhere we look, even if we don’t live with toddlers.  God shows us the value of being broken in nature.    

In order for a chick to hatch, the egg must break.

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In order for a caterpillar to become a beautiful butterfly, it must break out of its cocoon.

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In order for a pine tree to grow, the seeds must first break free from the pinecone.

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In order for a baby to be born and take its first breath, the water must break. 

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In order to plant a seed, the farmer must first break up the soil.

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In order for the seed to sprout, it must first break from its outer shell.

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In order for the seed grow, the clouds must break to provide the rain. 
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Sister Pat Holland has said, “God uses broken things.” 2  When I look at all the broken things around me, I ask, “Why does God use broken things?  What am I to learn?” 

I’d like share with you what thoughts have come to mind as I’ve turned to the scriptures and modern-day revelation to find answers to those questions.  I’ve learned that we have four basic needs, to be broken, to feel guilty, to be fed, and to be born again.

THE NEED TO BE BROKEN

We don’t need to read too far in the Book of Mormon to learn a powerful lesson about being broken. 3  Lehi and his family learned when Nephi’s bow broke that God can provide for us even when something is broken.  Just like Nephi, when we come to the Lord broken, we are shown a better way. In fact, it happens every week. 

Have you noticed that those administering the Sacrament don’t take the bread and water from their own trays? They serve it to each other.  As a congregation we try to do the same when possible.  Symbolically we first partake of the bread and water, then we grab the tray and offer it to the person next to us.  But why? 

I’ve pondered this seemingly small gesture. I think it serves as a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. Just like those who built the Tower of Babel learned, we cannot return home to Heavenly Father through our own efforts.  The way up isn’t by building a tower to heaven. There is only one way, and it is by becoming broken and turning to Jesus Christ.  In 1 Corinthians Christ tells us “Take eat, this is my body; which is broken for you.”  (1 Cor. 11:24)

In sign language the sign for “exchange” and “atonement” are very similar.

ASL sign for "exchange"  Source

 So if the atonement is an exchange and he wants us to eat the broken bread in remembrance of his broken body, what does he want in return? 

D&C 59: 8  tells us, “Thou shalt offer a asacrifice unto the Lord thy God in brighteousness, even that of a broken heart and a ccontrite spirit.”

What is a contrite spirit?  Lehi’s son Jacob gives some insight to this question. 4  In 2 Nephi chapter 9, he talks about how we should awake to “the awful reality” (v. 47) of our sins. Contrition is a result of feeling remorse.  And remorse comes from feeling guilt. 


THE NEED TO FEEL GUILT

When I hear the word “guilty” I tend to think of someone in court wearing an orange jumper with handcuffs with a judge in a black robe pointing his finger at her. 

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But it just simply means when we have done something wrong.  And we all have.  Unfortunately, Satan loves to use feeling guilty to turn us away from and not towards God.  The Book of Mormon shows us how he does this.

In Alma we have three chapters in a row that teach us about guilt. 

Chapter 30, which I call the Korihor Chapter, is about a man, Korihor, who told the Nephites they shouldn’t feel guilty.  He taught his followers to be like those that tried to build the Tower of Babel and “lift up their heads” and “to look up with boldness.”  He taught that to avoid feeling guilty just deny that there is anything to feel guilty about.  It’s hard to feel guilty for breaking a commandment if you don’t believe there is a God who gave them to you in the first place.

Chapter 31, which I call the Rameumptom Chapter, is about the Zoramites…a group of people who listened to Korihor and practiced what I like to call “Korihorism.”

Note: Korihorism is not an actual word or religion, it’s just my way of describing anyone who follows Korihor’s teachings. 

 They decided to build a tower, called Rameumptom meaning “Holy Stand,” to worship on.  To avoid feeling guilty, they looked down (literally) on others.  It’s hard to feel guilty when you can look at others and say, “At least I’m not as bad as you.” 

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Korihorism teaches us we can avoid feeling guilty by lifting ourselves up or putting others down.  Does anyone practice Korihorism now?  Sadly, yes.  People are still looking for ways to avoid feeling guilty. 

Sister Julie B. Beck former General Relief Society President said, “Sometimes people get casual about repenting. I have heard some people say that repenting is too hard. Others say they are tired of feeling guilty or have been offended by a leader who was helping them repent. Sometimes people give up when they have made mistakes and come to believe that there is no hope for them. Some people imagine that they will feel better about themselves if they just leave the restored gospel and go away.” 5

Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently quoted David Brooks who wrote an article for the New York Times about moral relativism.  I decided to look up the article mentioned in his General Conference talk.
6  The news article might as well have been titled, “Korihorism and the Rameumptom Tower.”   

“Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion.  There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd.  It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.” 7   

Remember the poor Zoramites weren’t upset at the practice of Korihorism, they were upset they couldn’t pray on the tower they helped to build.            

Lastly, we read Alma Chapter 32, which I call the S.E.E.D. (Swell, Enlarge, Enlighten, Delicious) Chapter. After seeing the effects of Korihorism, he teaches that guilt can be a gift.  Alma tells the Zoramites (and us) not to avoid our guilt, but to do as Jacob taught and “awake and arouse [our] faculties.” (v. 27)

This concept of guilt being a good thing is not something Satan wants us to believe.  But it can actually be a gift, for without it, we’d never know we need to be saved. 

Alma asks for us to “experiment upon [his] words” and to “exercise a particle of faith.”  (v. 27) He tells us we can do this by planting a seed. 

But this isn’t just any seed that grows into just any kind of plant.  This is a very specific seed that only grows into one kind of tree and produces a fruit that described in verse 42 “is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure;”  Does this description sound familiar?  It is the tree that Lehi dreamed about known as the Tree of Life and the fruit is the Love of God or the Atonement. 8  

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What Alma is trying to show us is that we don’t need to avoid guilt, because there is a way to remove it completely.  With Christ and His Infinite Atonement, we will remember our sins no more

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “When [Christ] says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.” 9

Guilt isn’t something we need to be afraid of like Satan would want us to be.  Elder Tad R. Callister says it’s like a spiritual stop sign warning us, Don’t go down that road. You know the pain it can bring.” He goes on to say it can actually be a protection, not a punishment. 10  Yet sadly the world continues to try to avoid guilt.

THE NEED TO BE FED

I recently heard about a study that the Pew Research Center conducted. 11  They are a nonpartisan nonprofit “fact tank” based in Washington D.C. that study social issues, public opinion and demographic trends.  They found that Millennials are losing their religion and our faith is not immune to the trend. (Although, LDS young adults do remain in larger numbers than other faiths.)  One former LDS member responded said, “I didn’t come to church to preached at or lectured to, I came to be mentored.” 

I have thought long and hard about that statement.  The word preach means simply a religious message delivered from a pulpit; however, the connotation of the word is much more emotionally charged and often negative.  The same goes for the word “lecture” which just means an educational talk delivered to an audience. 

But the word mentor is more than listening to someone else, it requires action.  As someone who has given many guest lectures and taught university classes, I’ve learned that I can easily lecture someone who doesn’t want to listen (just ask my kids).  But what I can’t do is mentor someone against their will.  A true mentorship comes from someone seeking guidance and help, not from someone seeking to give it.

So as I tried to deconstruct her statement, I asked my social media community to weigh in.  They pretty much confirmed what I thought.  Most people see preaching and lecturing as bad; mentoring, good.  In essence preaching is like saying “This is what I want you to hear” and mentoring is like saying, “This is what I want to hear.” 

It was like my friends were saying, “I don’t want anyone to make me feel guilty, and I don’t want anyone to make me feel ashamed.”

Then one of my friends made this comment.

“I would say I come to church to be fed or nurtured, which happens when, through talks, lessons, and ordinances, I feel connected with God. Personally being preached at or lectured to (or phrased more benignly, listening to a lecture) are barriers to being fed and nurtured. Preaching and lecturing implies a distance between the person speaking and those listening. The best talks and lessons are those that bring me into a place of mutual sharing of the spirit. The analogies of the word of God to living water or a feast are the closest description of the reason I go to church.”

The idea of coming to church to be fed makes me think of the metaphor of a dinner party.  Can you imagine going to a dinner party and saying to the host, “No thanks, I’m not hungry”? Or arriving at the dinner party ready to eat and the host says, “I forgot to make dinner”?   That is kind of what it would be like at a church service if there is disconnection between the speaker and the listener.

I submit that for a Sacrament Meeting, a Sunday School class, or any lesson at church to be effective, there needs to be as my friend says, “a… mutual sharing of the spirit.”  We are all here to feast at the banquet table and we do that by studying together the doctrine of Christ.

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THE NEED TO BE BORN
Since pondering the concept of being broken, now when I take the Sacrament and place that piece of broken bread in my mouth, I feel like it is Christ’s way of saying to me, “Let’s make an exchange.  I will take your broken heart, your guilt, your remorse, your contrite spirit, and in exchange I will give you peace, hope, and a cheerful heart so that you can always have my Spirit.”  I don’t need to run away from my guilt, I need to run towards the One who can take it away. 

As I watched my mom struggled year after year with her diabetic-related health problems, I often wondered if she would ever be healed.  I knew that Christ had the power to restore her feet, but He never did.    When I stood in the mortuary preparing to dress her body in her temple clothing, I realized that she had been healed.  I had seen her testimony of Jesus Christ and His Atonement grow, her heart soften, and her spirit mend. God hadn’t been interested in her feet as much as He was interested in her soul.  He wanted her to be born again unto Christ. 


Ruth Rasmussen Buchanan 1946-2105

Alma 7:14 says “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.”

And just like the chicken, the butterfly, and the tree, my mom too needed to be broken to be born again.  We all do.  Because God doesn't love us in spite of us being broken, He loves us because we are broken.  





We don’t come to church to be made to feel guilty.  We come to church because we are guilty. 

We don’t come to church so that we can feel better about our sins compared to others.  We come to church because we are all sinners. 

We don’t learn to be obedient so we can earn our spot in heaven.  We learn to be obedient so we can feel at home when we get there. 

We come to church to partake of the Bread of Life and the Living Water. 

We come to be lifted by the One who has descended below them all.

We come to have our broken hearts mended by Christ.  



SOURCES and ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

1To read more how living with Charcot Foot affected my mother, click here  and here.

2To read the BYU devotional given by Jeffrey and Patricia Holland titled “An Inconvenient Messiah,” click here

3To read how Lehi’s family responded when Nephi’s bow broke, click here and read verses 14-24. 

4To read Jacob’s two sermons on how the atonement works in our lives, read 2 Nephi chapters 9 and 10

5To read Sister Julie B. Beck’s April 2007 General Conference talk about repentance, click here.  

6To read Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s April 2017 talk titled “A Voice of Warning”, click here.

7To read David Brooks’ New York Times article titled, “The Shame Culture”, click here.

8To read Elder Kevin W. Pearson’s April 2015 General Conference talk titled “Stay by the Tree”, click here.  

9To read Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s April 2006 General Conference talk titled “Broken Things to Mend”, click here

10To read Elder Tad R. Callister’s article titled “How Do I Know When I Am Forgiven?” click here

11To read the results of the Pew Research Center’s study on Millennials and religion, click here