So a few months back, I was interviewed by Bill Reel about my journey from addiction to recovery to rebaptism and ended with my testimony. I have to say that hearing myself talk about it really is kind of strange, but strangely reassuring. There was the time a few weeks ago that life really weighed me down so listening to the interview reminded me where I was and where I am. That reminder and reassurance was what I needed at that moment, but I digress.
A very good friend of mine listened to the interview and email me his response. But there were a couple of lines in there that really struck me and made me think really hard. With his permission, these are the two sentences: “You are now a missionary giant and way above me. After listening to you I feel like a puny dork.” This really troubled me because that is exactly how I don’t see myself, ESPECIALLY compared to him. This is a man that had accepted me from the very beginning (almost two decades ago) for who I was, didn’t let my offensive, crass nature turn him away and after I told him my whole, unadulterated story, he didn’t push me away and shut me out. When it comes to spirituality, he’s got it! So when he said he felt spiritually puny to me that really shook and troubled me to the core. But I wasn’t able to talk to him about it yet because I was not sure why I felt the way I did. I turned on my self-analysis tools, said lots of prayers, and these many months later the spirit finally gave me the answer. And it really reshaped how I view others.
There are two parts to this; the first is a reminder to me about “negative pride.” This is what I spoke about in the talk I gave:
“In my experience, the one biggest factor getting in the way of letting sins go is a type of pride. We’re all familiar with pride being where one thinks they’re better than another, but I have found that there is a pride where one thinks they’re worse than others; a reverse type pride. Instead of a person artificially putting themself above others, this person artificially puts themself beneath others. It is, in a sense, a competition of who’s the worst sinner along the line of what President Benson has told us that “Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We put our will against God’s… It is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.” He goes on: “The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.” (April 1989 Gen Conf)
When we refuse to let go of our sins or when we look around and tell ourselves that “no one has sinned worse than me” or when we wallow in how bad a person we are, we are running contrary to God’s will to repent and allow God to heal us. This is pitting our will to be miserable against God will to give us joy. And thus, we refuse to forgive ourselves when our Father in Heaven already has.” (reconverted.org blog post; 15 Years In The Making: My Sacrament Meeting Talk)
This explains the reverse pride that I was caught up in before. I relished the thought that I was more sinful, more evil, more “experienced” than everyone else in my ward and stake. It wasn’t until I really began to see myself for who I was, a son of God who mattered, that I began to have a change of attitude. Once I got to that point, I perceived that I was less than the folks in my group, not necessarily because I had pride in my sins, but sorrow for who I was and what I had done. And just to pile on even more, at that time, they had the Gift of the Holy Ghost, I didn’t. So I looked at the others who did have the gift and saw them as much better people than I was. I later began to better grasp the concept of being a son of God and began to have a reassurance that it wasn’t a matter of me being better or worse than the others, but that I was sharing the same path that they were; the path to becoming better, godlike people who did our best to learn and obey the commandments and quickly repented when we messed up.
So here enters the second part, the part that really hit me hard today, the part where I was spiritually taught, the part where I was taught humility; the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
We all know the story, son wants more, son goes to father and demand his share of the inheritance, son goes off on riotous living, son loses it all and shares food with the pigs, son decides to go back to be a servant to his father since they not only eat better than he does, they have a bed to sleep in. The father was constantly scanning the horizon, looking for the return of his lost son. When he saw him from “afar off” he ran to him, kissed him, all the while his son protesting telling his father that he is not worthy to be his son. So how many of us feel that way? I know I did. But then what did the father do and, more pointedly, what did his brother do?
The brother: “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” (Luke 15:29-30)
The Father: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” (Luke 15:31)
This parable is a similitude of our relationship with our Father in Heaven. He loves all his children including the wayward sinner. But my lesson was this: the one who never strayed has the better life.
Now don’t get me wrong, those who repent of their sins are “restored unto righteousness” so we all have the opportunity for eternal life. But my good friend, who never strayed, has the better life because he is not burdened with the consequences that I burdened myself with:
- Images and acts constantly popping up in my head.
- The knowledge of the hurt I left my victims with.
- The knowledge of the swath of destruction I left behind.
- Being the reason why my marriage failed and I lost my family.
- Being the reason why my children do not have their father.
- Having a felony record.
- Having been excommunicated.
- Having a bad reputation.
- The Lost years and years to an unproductive life.
- The loss of years and years that could have been spent with the Holy Ghost and communing with God.
- Having to work to overcome all these.
- Much, much more that is too many to list.
Now I’m not bemoaning this list, I’ve come to accept that these are the results of my bad behavior. But I also come to accept and know that with the Lord all things are possible, including forgiveness, which he has given me in spades. But I can’t help but be sad about having to pass through some very dark, lonely, dreary places just so that I could learn what I know now. So while one doesn’t need to smoke crack to know it’s bad, with the same token one does not need to do some heavy-duty sinning to learn to be spiritual. Those who do not have a lot less consequences, a lot less baggage and, I believe, are a whole lot better off.
So to my good friend I would tell him: “Those who know that fire burns without needing to stick their hand in the flames never get the scars from being burned. If it weren’t a sin, I would say that I am envious of you because I have a lot of deep, self-inflicted physical and spiritual scars that may never go away in this life. But there is one thing that consoles me and that is that I am almost right up there with you on the path to being restored to happiness and righteousness in the kingdom of God.”
Addendum: A big realization came to me as I was talking to a friend this morning and I risk hurting some people’s feeling with this, but it dove-tails into the intent of this posting. That realization is that the people who made the biggest difference in my life, helped me the most and have become the dearest, closest and most trusted of friends did not do what I did, sin like I did or (as far as I know about them) dive down into the darkest places like I did. Don’t get me wrong, they had their trials and they had their moments where they had to decide which path they were going to trod but they did not act in a way that their consequences came close to mine. It may sound counter-intuitive but really, I don’t know many people who have been where I’ve been.
It was (and still is) the guidance of those who’s hands are clean who became the people I looked up to and gave me the best of advice and, next to the Savior, the best of example. They knew how to talk with the Lord and they had testimonies of the love God has for his children. This gift they were more than willing to share with me and, at times, it made them very vulnerable. But they risked it and I am eternally grateful for their patience and willingness to extend their friendship to me.
For what it’s worth, my love and undying loyalty they will always have.