Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Our Spiritual Garage Sales: The Tragedy of Cheaply Selling Precious Gifts

I heard a story recently that left me haunted with an image of how we treat the gifts that God and others have given us. A friend of mine, filled with compassion for a young student whose activities were severely limited by a respiratory problem, organized a campaign to buy a $5,000 portable respirator device that could allow the boy to go outside during recess at school instead of being largely immobilized. I think the device is much cheaper now, but at the time it was quite expensive. She managed to get public funds made available to buy a unit that could bless the boy's life. The unit would belong to the school but be loaned to the boy's family. He could take it home but was expected to bring it with him to school. Shortly after receiving this gift, the young boy quit bringing it to school. He said he forgot it, and would try to remember next time, but the same thing happened day after day. Puzzled school officials contacted the mother to see how they could help, and the truth came out. The boy's mother had sold the device at a garage sale.

I felt the pain of my friend who saw such a loving gift be discarded in such stupidity. It was not only the tragedy of wasting so much for so little, but the fact that she was discarding something that her son needed and was hurting her own family with her foolishness. I almost shook with frustration as I contemplated the scene, and then it hit me how much we all are like that mother when we reject the gifts that God has given us, especially the gift of His Son. The precious gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is meant to free us from the chains that immobilize us in sin and give us the breath of joyous, eternal life. It is meant to bless us and our children and their children, but when we reject it and sell it off as trash in our own spiritual garage sale as we abandon the Gospel of Jesus Christ and remain in ignorance and sin, we always hurt more than just ourselves. We often hurt our children and others in our lives. We may make the precious gifts of the Gospel inaccessible, at least for a while, to those who need those blessings now.

How great the price was that bought us the gifts of freedom and life through the Atonement. How cheaply we sell it off when we sin and when we reject the gift of the Gospel. May we understand how horrific our betrayal is and swiftly seek to repent and daily draw closer to the Lord on the path of faith and repentance.

15 comments:

dan said...

only problem with that analogy is that everyone (including most likely the mother) has a sense of the worth of the machine in question, but in terms of the worth of the sacrifice of the Son of God, we don't really know the value of that in our lives because we have to take it on faith that it is valuable.

Stephen said...

Really nicely said, especially because everyone in abstract values the atonement, yet we sell it cheaply in blindness to our own situation.

Anthony said...

What a frustrating story.

Recently my branch president told us about Stephen E. Robinson asking members of the church if a) they were doing everything they were supposed to in living the gospel and b) if they believed they would go to the celestial kingdom. The majority answered affirmative to a and only 25-33% answered affirmatively to b. (males ~33%, females ~25%).

Sinning isn't the only way to reject the gift of the atonement. Doing everything we're "supposed to" and continuing to feel unworthy also seems tragic to me.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, I've seen situations similar to the one you describe. In those cases, there was more going on than what was admitted.

I met a lame man in my mission that was something like that. He could use his weak arms a little, but not his legs at all. He couldn't use a regular wheelchair, so they built him one with a hand crank that his weak arms could propel.

However, the chain broke, and he had his friends push him around. But whenever they fixed the chain, he broke it again.

It turned out that he wanted the companionship of people who pushed him around in the chair. He wanted the attention and pity. Self-sufficiency wasn't his goal.

I'll take a stab in the dark, and put forth some other possibilities about the boy you mention.

Maybe he didn't want to go out and play at recess, possibly because he was always called on last to join a team, or wasn't good at the games, or was clumsy.

Wearing or dragging along a breathing device (oxygen generator?) doesn't get you completely up to speed or make you good at games or popular.

Maybe, for whatever reason, he wanted to stay inside and have people attend to him on his terms.

Loner or non-athletic kids often don't like recess.

And if he consistently refused to take the machine to school, maybe that was when his mother decided to sell it. It could have been at his urging.

Or, selling it could have been her idea if he came home complaining of being taunted and teased during recess because he had to wear the machine.

Portable oxygen machines can make a farting sound when they start to get low. Man, can you imagine the teasing he'd get for that.

Your story is a good parable (simile?) of how we often treat the Atonement of Christ.

But it's also an example of how do-gooders' efforts often go to waste or backfire, because they don't fully understand what all is going on with the objects of their good intentions.

Now, maybe the mother did just sell it to get money to buy drugs, or maybe she was truly ignorant of it's worth, or ignorant of how to return it to the school while saving face for the boy (and/or herself.)

Or maybe she forgot that the school owned it, or maybe she was resentful that it was loaned instead of given outright to her son.

But my guess is that the _boy_ didn't want it, and that there were other factors of his disability, such as psychological, such that the mother may have thought that just getting rid of it, and pretending she had thought it was an outright gift, was the least embarrassing option for her son.

Parents do a lot of bone-headed things thinking they are actually "protecting" their children.

(One of the most common stupid ones is when some immigrant parents don't teach their children the mother tongue, because they don't want the kids to speak English with an accent. It's actually the opposite. If parents speak accented English in front of the children, the children will pick up the accent. But if parents let the kids get most of their English at school or from TV, then the kids will not have an accent. )

Matthew said...

@ anthony,
Is that really so surprising though? People are inherently insecure with themselves, and while one may argue that insecurity is not an intended outcome for religious living it is a side effect that's hard to avoid. Most people recognize that they are far from 'perfect' (whatever that means) and as such the idea of reaching perfection sounds impossible.

The idea of the atonement where you don't succeed via what you do (but by being forgiven) is not an easy one to grasp. Especially when you add in the huge emphasis that LDS theology places on what one does.

Typically I'd be more concerned about the minority that state that they are going to go to the celestial kingdom. I don't see how one can feel confident in that when they are human and making the kinds of mistakes we constantly do. I have a definite problem with saying that I'm wotthy of making it to some sort of special place that most others won't attain, especially when I see how overwhelmingly good the majority of people that I meet in life are. (I'm surrounded by many many people that are much more caring compassionate and hard working then I am.)

Mormanity said...

Bookslinger, very interesting analysis, as usual. Really appreciate the new perspectives you bring. You may be right. I am remote from the people, the time, and the setting, but there could well have been much deeper issues as you point out. Thanks!

I have a painful story from my recent trip about do-gooding done bad. I went from a nice self-righteous feel-good high to realizing that I had just helped a crack addict get more crack. It's a bit involved and multifaceted - hope I can do it justice.

Anthony said...

Hi Matthew,

Maybe most Mormons answer the way you do because of characteristic humility. However, I don't think that confidence that one will be exalted necessarily implies a lack of humility. That confidence could merely be faith in Jesus Christ and a clear understanding of one's relationship to him.

"The idea of the atonement where you don't succeed via what you do (but by being forgiven) is not an easy one to grasp. Especially when you add in the huge emphasis that LDS theology places on what one does."

Even with all the repetition of this idea of the atonement in the Book of Mormon? It's still not easy to grasp? That sort of leaves me flummoxed.

"I don't see how one can feel confident in that when they are human and making the kinds of mistakes we constantly do."

The atonement is for humans that make mistakes. Perfection in mortality isn't possible, so obviously it's not necessary. Otherwise nobody would receive the gift.

"I have a definite problem with saying that I'm worthy of making it to some sort of special place that most others won't attain, especially when I see how overwhelmingly good the majority of people that I meet in life are."

Nephi was rather optimistic about that. "I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, if not all, may be saved in his kingdom."

Alan said...

I desparately need the atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of him, I will be exalted. Without him, my eternal future is hopeless.

Anonymous said...

to Matthew: you said "Typically I'd be more concerned about the minority that state that they are going to go to the celestial kingdom. I don't see how one can feel confident in that when they are human and making the kinds of mistakes we constantly do. I have a definite problem with saying that I'm wotthy of making it to some sort of special place that most others won't attain, especially when I see how overwhelmingly good the majority of people that I meet in life are. (I'm surrounded by many many people that are much more caring compassionate and hard working then I am.)"

remember, that it is after all that we can do, that we still have to rely on the atonement of Jesus to guarantee our place in the celestial kingdom. with that in Mind and recognizing that He did indeed pay the price for all of Our sins, if We repent, I believe it is safe to say We are indeed going to be there in the celestial kingdom, gaining our exaltation.

Matthew said...

At Anthony and Anon,
Thanks for the input, guys. The atonement is, for me, not a very clear idea. I really don't get it. As I've read the scriptures and as a missionary I got the basic gist of the idea (do everything you can and then ask for repentance on the stuff you can't) but it simply never made any sense to me. Technically any commandment that is given would need to be possible in order for a just got to give it. If it IS possible to not sin then how can one say that the have given all they could give? Obviously our failing (even for the most devout amongst us) is that we don't see god's commandments as importantly as the things that we want to do, or the drives that we have. Every choice we make we are making micro scale tipping measurements and we choose the thing that has the outcome (as near as we can tell, we are often mistaken) we see as MOST beneficial, or desirable.

The fact that we sin is (near as I can tell) because we are either incapable or unwilling to put god first in our lives. Doesn't that make the person exempt from the atonement?

Maybe this all stems from an inability on my part to understand things but the atonement definitely doesn't feel intuitive to me. This isn't necessarily a mark against it. There are plenty of things in life that are not intuitive but true (if my physics class taught me anything it is this.)

This is (one of the many) reason why I often felt rather hopeless in the church. Part of repentance is not commiting the sin after asking for forgiveness. This works great with something like, "I drank alcohol last night" and not so well with, "I had a violent thought" or "I got angry at my wife." or "I had a sexual thought about a person that I am not married to." Those are all things that at the moment of asking for repentance you know full well that you are going to make the same error again. How can one truly be penitent for something which they know they will continue? Making it to the celestial kingdom would require having all sins washed clean. How does this work? We aren't going to over come most of our human issues during life. Many (I think all of us if we are honest) will go to the grave with any number of behaviors that are still unchanged by religion.

As much as I hate the ideal of "you just need to believe in him and you're forgiven" it does in many ways seem more sensible to me then the LDS ideal that repentance happens through both faith and works. Either the physical gestures we make during life (baptism in the true church, temple ordinances, living a certain way, etc) are a necessity or they are not. I get conflicting messages from the LDS church in this regard. For every talk about the importance of reaizing that we will be washed clean of all our imperfections through Christ, I see another that warns of the dangers of not following rule x to exactness.

I realize there are any number of ways that one can try to make these things (mercy and justice) coexist, but it honestly doesn't feel at all logical to me. I don't get why/how a person being nailed to a cross or suffering extreme spiritual anguish in a garden somehow validates the poor choices of billions of others. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Matthew said...

*keep in mind that this applies just as well to members of the LDS church as any other church, philosophy or life view. I'm not trying to single anyone out.

Nearly every type of person out there (within reason) finishes life witout too many huge deviances in the way they treat others and the general type of person they are. I've met some extremely kind and warm hearted people that would fit into the category of 'punkrocker' or 'churchgoing member' or just about anyother type of lifestyle out there. Most people don't seem to change a whole lot. Even within the gospel. Maybe I'm wrong and looking at things incorrectly. For most members of the church they have a comfortable area that they live in. They do certain acts of service and live by certain guidlines but they don't change a whole lot. If the atonement/gospel is supposed to change people it doesn't seem to do so any better then other life philosophies. You can point to the Paul type reversals but for everyone of those you have other people that through some sort of eye opening experience totally changed the basic form of life they had. An example of this are people that witness animal brutality and devote their lives to protecting animals like Jane Goodall or others. People that saw a very injust thing occur and it causes a change int them.

Basically what I'm saying is that religions doesn't seem (to me anyways) to have a much better track record then other ideals for changing behavior. This seems at odds with the concept of true repentance doesn't it?

mkprr said...

Matt,
You said you are concerned about those who think they will be in the Celestial Kingdom. I think that you are mistaken on what the atonement does for those who really do love God with all their hearts and are seeking Him continually.

When I use the atonement correctly, I do become sure of my standing before God, it allows me to stand before Him with confidence, but it is a very different confidence than what I get from a successful day at work, for example. With the atonement I am confident not in myself, but in my God who is perfect and in His promise to make me perfect with Him. At the same time I am made desperately aware of my own imperfections and my utter reliance on Him. This combination of complete confidence coupled with deep humility is where I find the most meaning joy and ability to do good in life. It’s a thrill to be confident clean and one with a perfect God, and being fully aware of my own imperfections makes it easy to love and be patient with those around me.

I think I can understand the hopelessness you can feel in the Church. No matter what you do there is always more that you could do and the more you do the more responsibilities you end up with. But when you believe in Christ, trust in Him, and love Him; and when becoming close with Him becomes your greatest desire the church is a dream come true. An opportunity to be constantly fed and nurtured. A place where you don’t have time to choose between right and wrong but instead wrestle with the choices between good better and best. It is then that the hopelessness goes away and the joy that you hear people talk about in testimony meeting becomes a personal reality.

As far as mercy and justice seeming to be contradictory I have recently been thinking about that very thing. I just got a scholarship for OSU starting fall term. I only get it if I actually go to college and keep my grades up. I will never have to pay it back, it is a free gift but it comes with requirements. It’s the same with the atonement as I understand it.

Matthew said...

I guess part of this discussion that makes it difficult for me to understand the atonement is a lot of the wording. What does it mean to "love god with all one's heart"? If the choice were between the life of my child and showing god that I approved of what he stands for (as in the absolutely disgusting story of Abraham and Issac) then I don't know that there are many on the planet that would fall into the category of "loving god with all their heart." and that's a good thing.

Again, I'm sure there are ways that people can make the pieces fit better with their day to day understanding and logic, I just don't see how the atonement is a coherent idea without a lot of tinkering.

I suppose I don't understand a lot of vicarious works though. I don't get how a baptism for the dead somehow magically transports a baptism to the dead person. If it's all a symbolic gesture (which seems most sensible) then why require people that are dead and making the symbolic part of the gesture to have someone else symbolically baptized. Perhaps it's unfair to expect answers to such questions, but these are some of the many stumbling block in holding church ideals up as if they were obvious, logical, or sensible. At least from my perspective at the moment. Perhaps I am the only one confused like this about it though, which may certainly be the case.

mkprr said...

I couldn't say for sure what THE reason for baptism for the dead is but I know that when I perform any vicarious work in the temple it reminds me of my covenants, gives me a chance to serve others and nurtures a bond between me and those who are deceased. For some reason it especially has meaning for me if I know I am related to the person I am performing the work for. Not sure why that makes a difference but for me it does.

The story of Abraham, awful as it is, makes more sense when not viewed ethnocentrically. Abraham lived among people entrenched deep in apostasy. Human sacrifice was what everyone else's God was supposedly telling them to do. Jehovah was reintroducing himself and through this test he not only found Abraham to be absolutely worthy but also dramatically illustrated to all those that came after Abraham that he does not require human sacrifice. There are some stories in the OT that I really don't know what to think of but this one to me makes some logical sense in light of the circumstances.

Matthew said...

Hmmm... It still seems, to me anyways, deeply immoral to let someone carry out (with full intention of really doing it) a mock execution of their own child. To do so to show their adoration to you seems deeply, and intrinsically, wrong. Were anyone to do this today I doubt many people would defend the action, and even the most Devout people out there wouldn't give such a request any serious thought. I know you wouldn't and to me saying that god, for any reason, would make such a request purely to see what would happen (if Abraham would be faithful) pretty much destroys any idea that said god is just, merciful all knowing or all loving. If he does exist I would sincerely hope that this story is some sort of badly translated allegory that bears little resemblance to an actual event. Such a god is not one that I would want ANYTHING to do with.

It's often seen as blasphemous to question god's motives in what he does but that seems like a cop out to me. If such a statement makes me a blasphemer then I would gladly take any such punishment if it turns out that I am wrong. It would be dishonest for me to state that I see his actions throughout the old testament as anything else but disgusting. If he had a good reason for doing the things he did then he is very good at hiding this and making it SEEM like he's a petty tyrant.