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Cover image via LDS.org.
Not long ago I was expressing frustration with a fellow member, because a woman we had fellowshipped for years, and who had finally reactivated, had then fallen away and wouldn’t even return calls.
“Well,” he shrugged, “it’s a hard church to belong to.”
Sometimes I substitute teach high school students, and occasionally I’ll toss a question out to get them thinking. One of these is, “Do rules restrict you or free you?” Invariably I’ll hear their campaigns for driving earlier, drinking, voting, later curfews and the like. To them, laws and rules cramp their style and keep them from having fun.
I ask them to imagine being parents, and their child wants to eat only candy bars. “Well, that’s not good for them,” the kids say. “If they only eat sugar they’ll get sick.”
“Why do I have to stop at a stoplight?” I ask. “That’s slowing me down and keeping me from driving freely.” Soon they see that laws and rules are to protect us, and I point out what would happen if drugs and alcohol were available to all teens, all the time. Nearly everyone knows someone whose life has been ravaged by addiction, and it’s easy to imagine the bedlam we’d have without traffic laws.
“Let’s say your friend decides nobody can tell him what to do and he decides to get drunk, break windows, rob a liquor store, drive 100 miles an hour, gets in a wreck, and goes to jail… how much freedom does he actually have?”
I help them see that these so-called “free choices” always have consequences, and those consequences restrict us. On the other hand, doing the “shoulds” and obeying laws have positive consequences. The child who eats a balanced diet instead of just sugar, will be healthier. The kid who studies gets the better grade, possibly the scholarship, entrance to a better university, a choice of careers, and on and on. There are always consequences of both obedience and disobedience.
So when my friend said this is a hard church to belong to, I was actually speechless for a moment (that’s about my maximum time for speechlessness). In my experience, the more we follow the church’s guidelines, the closer we draw to Christ, the more “active” we are, if you will, the easier life is.
In the 2015 October General Conference President Monson said, “When we keep the commandments our lives will be happier, more fulfilling and less complicated.” How would you like your life to be those very three things?
I thought about two of my other inactive friends. One was breaking the church’s morality laws and this had brought about untold health suffering, shame, remorse and regret. Pulling away from the church had also diminished her ability to feel the Spirit, and be guided by the Holy Ghost. Rules and regulations became slippery in her mind, and soon she was justifying dishonest behavior in business. When she found herself in a crisis, there was no roadmap, no plan she could see to help her repent, find self-respect again, and move forward. Feelings of bitterness filled the spaces where hope might have been.
The other one was completely self-absorbed, missing all the joy of serving others and being useful to her fellowman. Mired in self-pity and focusing only upon the negatives in her life, she joined with others similarly disappointed, and was soon blaming church members for all her problems. That escalated into blaming the church itself and soon her testimony was in shreds. From here she decided to ignore the Word of Wisdom, cut off family members, and criticize the leaders. It was as if she were following the adversary’s playbook. When I last spoke with her, she was more unhappy, less fulfilled, and more tangled in trouble than she had ever been. Exactly the same three things President Monson said are tied to our obedience.
This doesn’t mean that all active members are perfectly obedient. We trip up on a regular basis. And thank goodness we can repent and renew our covenants every week as we take the Sacrament and experience gratitude for the Savior’s love and willingness to suffer for all our sins. None of us are perfect, but as we strive to better follow the commandments, we hope we inch along in the right direction.
We often think that those who can’t understand the consequences of their poor choices simply lack maturity, like the high school students who want freedom from all rules. But we slip into the same thinking every time we have that second slice of pie, knowing we’ll regret it later. We “can’t” resist the momentary enjoyment, even when we know consequences await. We do the same thing when we buy impulsively, lose our tempers, and make a hundred other choices that we know are wrong, even as we’re making them.
And none of us enjoy the results of those bad choices. To my way of thinking, why not minimize the number of hard lessons we have to learn, by simply following President Monson’s counsel? The more loyal we are to what we know is best, the more devoted we are to keeping the commandments, the more joy we’ll have here and now. Yes, the Primary Answers are the key to a peaceful—and peace-filled– life. Prayer, scripture study, attending church, you know the list. When we do them, our life improves. When we don’t, we feel unsettled and lost. As a temple president once said, the commandments are really just tips for happy living.
When someone is thinking about baptism or reactivation and they look at all that’s “required,” why not see it as all that they will now be free from? Why consume addictive drinks that we become dependent upon? Why risk your family’s future by gambling? Why pursue dangerous moral choices? Why resist serving others, when that’s the very formula for joy and personal growth? Why refuse to pay tithing when it brings such immeasurable blessings? Why struggle with marriage issues that have solutions in our teachings? Why have surgery without a Priesthood blessing? Why cling to “friends” who lead you astray? Why deprive yourself and your family of temple blessings? Why cut yourself off from personal revelation? Why wonder if Christ loves you, and if Heavenly Father is really there? This church frees you from all of that.
To me this isn’t a hard church to belong to, it’s an easy one. Happier, more fulfilling, less complicated—sign me up.
Perfect for Mother’s Day– Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as a Relief Society President.