Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gettin' Churchy in the New Year

I love Christmas.
I love the time of year, I love the time off work, the gift giving, the family time, the traditions, the decorations, the music, the sentiment, the focus on Christ. Everything about Christmas is awesome. 

New Years, on the other hand? I've said it before...what’s the point? The celebration is lame, we all set goals we know we’re going to break, or spout off empty claims about how this year is going to be so much better than the last - so it’s a new year? Looks just about the same as the last one minus the fact that ‘isn’t it so crazy it’s 20-whatever?!?!!'
I meeeean...this was cool, I guess.

The ONLY redeeming feature that New Years has going for it as I see it is the natural segue from Christmas to New Years. The idea of new beginnings brought on by the birth of Christ. With no Christmas preamble, New Years is completely forgettable to me.

Paul explains in Corinthians, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Similarly, President Thomas S. Monson in the 2011 Christmas Devotional said:
"Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence. 
"Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
"Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because he came. 
"Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life."

In other words, without Christ our lives become a lackluster New Years holiday.

Abinidi teaches us, “Thus all mankind were lost [speaking of the Fall]; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state…And now if Christ had not come into the world, there could have been no redemption.” (Mosiah 16:4,6)

Thank the heavens for that redemption! We know that because of the Fall we have become subject to the temptations of Satan. And, let’s be honest, sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes we get it really wrong BUT as a result of the Atonement of Christ we can make mistakes, we can learn, we can grow, we can fall and then through sincere repentance we can get back up, brush ourselves off, and get moving on the path again.

Bruce C. Hafen in his talk The Atonement: All for All says it this way, “Our Father’s plan subjects us to temptation and misery in this fallen world as the price to comprehend authentic joy. Yet because of the Atonement, [we] could learn from [our] experience without being condemned by it."

I'm not a lover of post-90s Tom Cruise but in his movie The Edge of Tomorrow (or in any old school video game, for that matter), every time he made a wrong move he would have to start from the very beginning again. And sometimes he would make it so far! But that didn’t matter. One wrong move. Back of the line, buster. No save button. Only restart. That type of living can be so demoralizing. But it’s not the same with our Heavenly Father. Yes, at times there’s ground to make up. Yes, sometimes we have to work harder to get back onto the path or to progress forward on that path but life is not a divine game of Chutes and Ladders.

Making a bad decision is not akin to being a bad person. 

However, “Remember," the scriptures say, "that he that PERSISTS in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him.” (Mosiah 16:5)

I’ve had a little bit of experience recently with persisting in wrongdoing...

I just had ACL reconstruction surgery [yes, yes, we've been out of touch recently] - which comes as a package deal with an awkward gait and crutches and a full length leg brace for several weeks. I didn’t know it at the time but I tore my ACL almost 3 years ago playing basketball. Despite the painfully traumatic injury and the resulting stiffness and swelling, I didn’t end up going to a doctor immediately afterwards and after my knee seemingly healed I, of course, went back to playing sports. Aaaaand my knee would give out on me to varying degrees of pain and swelling and I would just cope with it. Yes, I bought a little brace to help prevent the effects of the instability but ultimately I had come to accept my level of discomfort as my new normal. 

Eventually however, after repeated abuse, my knee finally became unstable enough that the effects had gotten worse - it started to temporarily dislocate - so I finally went to a I should have in the first place. During my initial evaluation I got an x-ray and the doctor pointed out minor bone spurs growing on the tips of my tibia. These were responses to the repeated and relatively uncontrolled pulling and twisting and bumping and grinding of my knee joint. In addition to that, the quad muscle on my injured leg had become slightly atrophied. It had grown weaker as a sort of biological coping mechanism. 

Unbeknownst to me, parts of my anatomy were physically changing.

Sometimes the results of our decisions are just like that. At times it’s an immediately catastrophic and severely painful tear. Other times it’s a much repeated, relatively ignorable injury. But either way, if we don’t address them, those decisions will begin to change us, and change us in ways we cannot always perceive - bone spurs on our souls, atrophied spirits. 

The main character in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, [a book I can't stop referring to] surmises, "Sometimes a man seems to reverse himself so that you would say, 'He can't do that. It's out of character.' Maybe it's not. It could be just another angle, or it might be that the pressures above or below have changed his shape...I think I believe that a man is changing all the time. But there are certain moments when the change becomes noticeable."

When I hurt my knee the first time I knew that something bad had happened. I knew that something was wrong. But no one seemed to make a big deal about it and it eventually seemed to heal on it’s own. I could still function, after all. I could walk and run and jump. Even when I kept re-injuring my knee, it wasn’t THAT bad. Don't get me wrong, it hurt. But sometimes I could play again immediately. All the other times it would swell up and become stiff but always eventually I could get back to relatively normal activity. As a result, I ignored that there was a problem. You could say that I had been pacified, lulled "away into carnal security”, that I had been convinced that, “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.” About these people Nephi warns, “the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21). You can see how it would happen so easily.

The Lord reminds us of His long-suffering, however, when he said, “Nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them...if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long.” (2 Nephi 28:32)

When I finally got around to going to the doctor, he was able to tell me things that I couldn’t self-diagnose. He was able to show me things that I could not and would not be able to see on my own. I was certain, based on my extensive WebMD research, that I had an MCL tear. Probably only a partial one at that. And there is very little that a doctor can do about that type of injury. So what was the point of going? It DEFINITELY wasn’t my ACL. And it couldn’t POSSIBLY be completely torn. Imagine my surprise... 

It is true what Paul says in Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). When I thought I was seeing with clarity, I was only seeing shapes and shadows. 

We have a doctor we can go to for our spiritual ailments. A primary physician. He is ours. And He can heal us. Our Savior can properly diagnose our injuries; our all too often self-inflicted injuries. And there isn’t any type of trauma that He cannot treat.

The Lord says in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8,9). He knows what ails us even when we don’t know ourselves. 

There is no benefit to waiting to obtain a proper diagnosis or holding out against an appropriate treatment plan. We don’t need to try to “fix it first” before we go to Him. And there is no problem that is too small for the master of ocean and earth and skies. Luke reassures us, “Are not 5 sparrows sold for 2 farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6,7)

In fact, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). So let us go to Him.

As a result of the long untreated tear in my knee, there is some degradation that could not be reversed, even with surgical intervention. Likewise, there will be consequences in our lives that we cannot avoid, no matter how painful and challenging they may be, or however much we may regret the initial decision. We must be accountable for our actions.

But we don’t have to let it change our spirits permanently, because there is a way through and there is a way back. Our Master Healer is there for us if we want Him. To comfort. To console. To help us learn from our mistakes and to create a personal rehab program which will enable us to get back to operating spiritual efficiency. And not only that but to achieve a fulness and an abundance. But the longer we let these things go the more difficult and involved our rehab will be. The amount of progress we make largely depends on us; on our active participation and total commitment to our own healing. 

When Christ came to visit the people in the Americas, he asked, “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted IN ANY MANNER? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” (3 Nephi 17:7)

In the Christmas hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Christ is celebrated thus:
"Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die."

One of my favorite scripture stories is that of the Daughter of Jairus. Jesus is going around doing what He does - healing people, casting out devils, preaching the Word - and there’s a great press of people surrounding Him. The scriptures describe the scene: “And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him [meaning Christ], [the ruler] fell at his feet, And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live” (Mark 5:22-23). So Jesus goes with him and all these other people follow him and crowd about him. Well in this group of people is the woman with the issue of blood who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed. And in the time it takes for this whole episode to occur, people from Jairus’ household show up and tell him, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (v 35) And this could have been the end of the story - listen, bud, it’s too late for you, stop pestering the Savior. You’ve made too many mistakes. It's taken you too long to get through this. This one's too big or too small. Your chances are no longer lying at the point of death but they are dead. No one can help you now... But: “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.” (v 36) And Christ goes to the home of this ruler and raises his daughter from the dead. 

"Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die."

New beginnings brought on by the birth, and life, and ministry, and Atonement of Jesus Christ.

We too can be reborn because of His birth. Because He came.

In the most recent Christmas Devotional, Elder Eyring quoted President Monson who said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is that penetrating light that makes of every hopeless dawn a joyful morning."

I know I'm too late to express Merry Christmases but I firmly extend my wishes for a very happy New Year.