I remember clearly the setting: one thing after another had rubbed me the wrong way and I was sorely tempted to “let my loved one have it.” For years I’d been trying to be more honest, open, real. Wouldn’t it be a step in the right direction, I thought, to let him know exactly how I was feeling—to lay all my cards on the table, to let it all hang out? Isn’t that what many of the self-help books suggest?
“Tempted” is the illuminating word, the only word that may be absolutely true in that whole scenario. Fortunately, this time, before I launched into a tirade I realized I was being tempted–tempted to “honestly” share what was probably nothing but thought distortions, false perceptions, and negativity.
When my feelings are predominantly negative I’m in my natural man mind—being deceived, being blinded by the craftiness of Satan to focus on and magnify the faults and weaknesses of another person. I’m blind in those moments to how the Lord sees them. I may even be disconnected from the love I feel for them. I’m caught up in lies and half-truths and am being tempted—in the noble name of honesty–to communicate those negatives. I’m also being tempted to think that my perceptions are reality, that my thoughts about the other person are true, when they may have little to do with them at all–and a lot to do with my own state of mind.
What Should I Share and Not Share?
The thoughts and feelings I need to honestly share are those that come from my heart when I am in tune with the Spirit. There is great virtue in that kind of honesty. The thoughts and feelings I had best keep to myself are those that come from my natural man self and from the promptings of the adversary. Proverbs 15:4 says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.”
There is absolutely no good accomplished by blurting out what I am honestly feeling when I’m out of sorts and out of tune. Who ever strengthened a relationship by yelling, “I honestly can’t stand the sight of you right now!”
The Value of Writing
There are obviously better ways of getting rid of bad feelings—ways that don’t strain relationships and create more bad feelings! It’s easy for me to deny that I’m feeling negative and I don’t want to stuff and keep secrets from myself. But how can I admit and process negative emotions without hurting others?
Sometimes when I’m upset, angry, or out of sorts I vent my feelings in writing. I immediately write over each line as soon as it is written so no-one–not even me–can read or be affected by the garbage I’m spewing forth. When the page is filled I tear it up and throw it away.
So many times just writing something down helps me see the unreasonableness or distortions in my thinking. I’ve learned to do that kind of emotional dumping before I ever attempt to communicate “honestly” with someone I’m upset with.
Another exercise that helps is to divide a page into two columns, then write down what I’m feeling in one column, then what might be more true in the opposite column. It quickly becomes obvious that I haven’t been seeing things clearly, that I haven’t been seeing the truth.
Other times I write the feeling and then say, as Byron Katie suggests, “Is that true? Can I really know it is true?” 1
The truth is what I really want to know. Nephi said, “I glory in plainness, I glory in truth” (2 Nephi 33:6). The truth I seek is not only the truth of how I’m feeling, but more importantly the truth as God sees it. My feelings are fickle, my feelings are not facts; often they are simply NOT based on truth. They can be affected by health problems, chemical imbalances, mental illness, even the weather and the barometric pressure.
How Can I Know the Truth?
The Holy Ghost is the keeper of truth, the conduit of truth, the sure witness of truth. Jacob 4:13 reads, “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore it speaketh of things as they really are.” Therefore, tuning into that channel is what I need to do.
Ironically, I can often re-establish my connection to the Spirit that teaches all truth by opening my heart to God and sharing even the most negative of my feelings with Him.
God is the One Who Can Handle All Our Feelings
Great benefits can be derived from confessing all feelings to God and asking Him to help sort them out. We can tell Him anything and He is not going to be hurt or angered or surprised or upset or disgusted with us. Even when it is God we are angry with, He invites us to pour out our hearts to Him so He can help heal us.
Author Michael Card, calls this process the “lost language of lament.” He points out that denial of our feelings is the polar opposite of lament and that, “the Scriptures are filled with lament. Every major biblical character from Abraham to Paul is heard praying their protests to God and sorrowing for their sins by means of lament.” 2 He gives numerous examples of Biblical characters taking their sorrow and anger and anguish to the Lord. (Latter-day Saints can add examples of Book of Mormon characters, the classic example of Joseph Smith in the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants (“O God, where art thou? . . . How long shall thy hand be stayed?” verses 1 and 2).
Card indicates that the process of voicing our laments to the Lord is not only desirable, but necessary in order for the Lord to be able to cleanse our hearts of bad feelings, and replace them with better ones. Card points out that many of the Psalms are laments—and with the exception of Psalm 88, each lament turns eventually to praise, showing that lament is the most common path to true worship.
I find it interesting to note that Nephi’s “psalm” (2 Nephi 4) follows that same pattern. Nephi begins with “O wretched man that I am,” and rehearses his grief and complaints, but soon says, “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” The chapter ends with Nephi reminding himself of the goodness of the Lord and praising His name.
There is something so vital to be learned from this pattern. As we open our hearts to the Lord and tell Him our most painful feelings, we open ourselves too to His comfort, to His guidance, to having our thoughts and feelings changed—to having the Spirit turn us away from false perceptions to light and truth.
So, When Is Honesty a Temptation, not a Virtue?
I return to my main thesis: the adversary tempts us to “honestly” express natural man thoughts and feelings, negatives with just enough truth in them to hurt, and downright falsehoods that strain relationships. On the other hand, the Holy Ghost entices us to focus on and share truths that build rather than hurt.
This principle is so important that it became part of our 13 th Article of Faith: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men .
. . If there is anything virtuous lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I believe this means we believe in seeking after all the good in others. This proclamation of our intent to build and be a source of good was influenced by Phillipians 4:8 which tells us to think on whatsoever things are true, honest, just, lovely, of good report.
To me that means a basic tenet of our religion is to listen to the Spirit telling us the truth of the nobility of our fellow human beings. What better thing could be said of a person than that “the law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips (Malachi 2:6).
When I listen to the Spirit, instead of giving into to the temptation to lambast family members with my “honest” bad feelings, I am given a new view of their innate goodness and fine intentions. Then my irritations and tendencies to focus on faults melt like snow in the sunshine—the sunshine of truth. When I stand in the Light of His Love, honestly sharing that love with others is always a virtue!
1 see Byron Katie, All War Belongs on Paper, The Work Foundation, Inc. Manhattan Beach California, 2000
2 Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow, NavPress, Colorado Springs . Colorado ,2005, 21