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You can passionately and powerfully believe something that is completely false. False ideas do not always announce themselves as being counterfeit. If they did, we would be wiser.
Perhaps if each of our false assumptions was dressed as a wolf, baring its teeth, we’d identify it faster. Then, we’d run from assumptions that really hurt us. But they don’t and we don’t.
We embrace them, because we don’t know better.
This means you can cling to an assumption that really hurts you. What makes it worse is not only that you believe it, but that you begin to shore it up with evidence—sometimes a whole array of evidence—from your life. You unwittingly pile up examples to prove your false assumptions, until they seem to be a part of your outlook. They become burrowed into your soul as if they are reality.
Some false assumptions may have a minor affect on you, barely disturbing your wholeness. But some false assumptions are much more dangerous. It really matters if you assume a bridge across a ravine is secure, and you have misunderstood, not seeing that wooden slats have rotted through.
Here are five false assumptions that can severely mar your spirituality and relationship with God. Even if you don’t believe them overtly, you may believe them as silent assumptions that still influence your outlook.
1. If God loved me, my life would turn out better.
Two false ideas are at work in this assumption. The first is the most dangerous, which questions the very nature of God. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength…but the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind and strength.”
To assume that God’s love for us is on the line or that he must prove His love to us by blessing us according to our script is to misunderstand the very nature of our Father. He loves and blesses us because it is impossible for him to do otherwise. It is his nature and he has made it his mission to invest in us and create the perfect, customized circumstances for us to return into his presence.
God is perfect in every particular and does not change with time or circumstance. That means his love is perfect for you in every particular, and combined with his omniscience, justice, mercy, holiness, and every other divine attribute knows how to make all things work together for your good, if you love him.
If we will let him, he will save us.
C.S. Lewis wondered if, “What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”
We can be grateful that the Lord is not a senile, old benevolence, but the king of creation. If the only gift in all of eternity we ever received was the atonement, we could never give enough of our heart and praise to him.
We are forever the indebted—the blessed indebted.
So back to the pretty picture we have worked out for our lives. It is true that picture will be completely revised by reality. But that picture was based on a false assumption in the first place—that you knew what beauty really looked like and that a seamless road, a smooth path where everything worked just so, could create in you the wholeness God requires to return to the full joy of His presence.
We can’t make of ourselves or of our eternity the joyful, shining reality that God has in store for us. This means here and now, it hurts sometimes. It doesn’t mean that God has forgotten us.
2. I am only worthy of his love, if I turn in a perfect performance. God cannot accept me where I am.
Perfect performances are impossible for citizens of a fallen world. To think otherwise is to torture ourselves. It is also to become overly self-concerned, tempted to constantly evaluate ourselves when we should be about loving other people.
Wally Goddard wrote, “As a young man I had aspirations to become noble and good. I wanted to be a good Latter-day Saint and a good person. I was so serious about my goals that, when I was a freshman in college, I kept a chart on which I evaluated myself on 27 criteria every single day. Was I kind to my sister? Was I thrifty? Did I use my time well? Did I get to bed on time? Every day I gave myself a letter grade in each of those 27 areas. Oddly, when I did well, I gave myself a C. My chart was littered with C’s and unnumbered D’s and F’s. I had very high standards for myself and I wasn’t meeting them.
Would you guess that this self-evaluation activity energized my life and growth—that it made me happy and spurred great progress? Or would you predict that I became discouraged, sullen, and depressed. You probably know the answer. I was exhausted and dispirited. I wanted to die to be relieved of my misery. I prayed to be run over by any passing truck.”
It is miserable to believe we have to turn in a perfect performance because we can’t. Not here and not now.
God loves us where we are and invites us with open arms to “Come unto him.” Not come when you are ready, when you feel entirely worthy, when you have achieved something outstanding, but come now. Christ’s love is a come as you are party.
The woman taken in adultery at the temple was surrounded by accusers. When they skulked away, one by one, convicted of their own conscience, the Lord asked her, “Where are thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” Then he added, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8: 10,11).
A sense of unworthiness should never drive us from God. All have fallen short and all have the same invitation. When a stained woman was thrown at his feet, he did not condemn her, but gave her an invitation to an expanded life. It is through his merits and mercy that invitation is extended.
What we offer in exchange is not current perfection, but willingness and the confidence in him, as Elder Holland said, “to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor.”
3. My prayers aren’t really heard. God doesn’t listen to me.
It is easy to believe that our prayers are unheard. Bart J. Kowallis, speaking at a BYU Devotional, asked questions that you may wonder about. “How does God keep track of all of the billions of people here on earth when I can barely remember the names of my children? How does He receive and answer prayers from the millions who are praying to Him at any given moment? How does He communicate with us almost instantaneously when for us it would take four years just to send a radio transmission to the nearest star in our galaxy and another four years to receive an answer? How is it possible for us to become like Him when the gulf between us seems so vast?”
The problem with believing that nobody is really listening is that we may believe that prayers of real intent are not worth our time and effort. Prayers become a duty to hurry through, to mumble across. Check, check. We did it today.
This false assumption really hurts. Our prayers may become an exercise in mind wandering. “Dear God, I thank thee. (Did I turn the oven off?) I need thee. (I must add this call to my list of things to do.)
It is easy to substitute rote prayers and laundry lists of requests, instead of giving energy and focus to communicate with the God of the universe, our own Father. We may think if we don’t receive an immediate answer that we can easily perceive, we have not been heard.
I asked my teenage child once to pray about a matter that concerned her. She answered, “Will you pray for me instead? I know the Lord hears your prayers.” Her assumption was that God would not hear hers.
C.S. Lewis described himself as a boy trying to pray for a miracle when his mother died. “I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture of this miracle, to appear neither as Savior nor as Judge, but merely as a magician, and when He had done what was required of Him I supposed He would simply—well, go away.”
We don’t have an absentee God. The invitation to “Pray always” implies that God is always there, awaiting conversation. This is an invitation we can take with joy, but also with enormous respect. Who am I that God would seek to talk with me? But he does. His divine attention is upon me when I pray.
When Jesus stood before the stone that sealed Lazarus tomb, he taught us something profound about prayer. “And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always” (John 11:41,41).
If Jesus knows the Father heareth him always, who are we to doubt that he hears us as well?
4. God doesn’t talk to me. He has moved away from me.
Some people say that they don’t feel the Spirit in their lives or they haven’t felt it for a long time, even when they are working hard to be devoted disciples.
God has told us that he “is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing” (Mormon 9:9).
He does not move from us, retreat to another corner of the universe where reception is bad, or ignore the pleas of his children.
Sometimes we became casual or caught up in distractions. President Kimball said, “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength.” Clearly we have to do our part to feel God’s presence, but there’s more.
It is also a false assumption to think that God can only talk to us in one way. The Spirit does not always speak as a “burning in our bosom” or a cascade of warmth and light. It uses many languages.
We’re taught that “all things which are agood cometh of God” (Moroni 7:12). All things that are light cometh of God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22).
Many who think that God has moved from them are actually feeling His Spirit and presence regularly because these things are a part of their lives.
A friend who is an LDS scientist told me that he hadn’t felt the Spirit in his entire life. I asked, “Do you ever awaken with a new idea for a project you are working on?” He said that happened all the time. I answered, “Then you have felt the Spirit.”
Elder David A. Bednar said, “I have talked with many individuals who question the strength of their personal testimony and underestimate their spiritual capacity because they do not receive frequent, miraculous, or strong impressions. Perhaps as we consider the experiences of Joseph in the Sacred Grove, of Saul on the road to Damascus, and of Alma the Younger, we come to believe something is wrong with or lacking in us if we fall short in our lives of these well-known and spiritually striking examples. If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are quite normal…”
Most of us he said, are taught line upon line. A “common experience with light helps us learn an additional truth about the “line upon line, precept upon precept” pattern of revelation. Sometimes the sun rises on a morning that is cloudy or foggy. Because of the overcast conditions, perceiving the light is more difficult, and identifying the precise moment when the sun rises over the horizon is not possible. But on such a morning we nonetheless have sufficient light to recognize a new day and to conduct our affairs.
“In a similar way, we many times receive revelation without recognizing precisely how or when we are receiving revelation.”
5. I can have one foot in Babylon and one in the Kingdom of God.
Babylon wouldn’t continue to flourish if it didn’t have its appeal. It has flash, charisma and intellectual temptation. We think we are finding our place in the world, when all the time the world is finding its place in us. We want it both ways—and we actually think it is possible.
We can embrace the latest philosophies of men. We can court the cheers of the fawning crowd, but in the end that only makes us wafflers whose opinion changes with the shifts of the climate.
If Zion is the pure in heart, there is no alloy accepted there. God seeks to help us become sanctified—not good, sort of.
Just as there are many of us who are perfectionists and err in that direction, there are many who are utterly casual about spiritual things. This is OK or that is OK for now. We have too much practice in wasting away our lives in the trivial and insignificant.
We have this perfect description of how the Adversary tempts us in the Book of Mormon. “And there shall also be many which shall say, “Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin…there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28: 8).
Truth and light do not flourish in a ground of false assumptions. If we have spent part of our lives acquiring false assumptions, the time is now to begin to shed them.