NT 7: Temptation, Mortality, and Hope

img_2650I made bread today. This is my late grandma’s recipe and every bite brings a wave of nostalgia. And it’s just really, really delicious bread.

Today I studied the temptation of Christ following His forty-day fast in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, NT and Luke 4:1-13, NT). The temptations Jesus experienced seem to reveal a pattern of human frailty: physical hunger, desire for control over life and death, and lust for power over external things and people. If we have Christ’s perspective of the reality of earth life and eternity, that perspective quickly exposes Satan’s lies about the supposed importance of satiating physical hunger at the expense of more important things, his lies about mortal ability to control anything, and his lies about the need for “power.” Satan knows mortal weakness, though, and knows just how to get us.

Like today. Some of the “magic” I have felt the last few weeks has rubbed off and I’m left to my own strength again; left to fight those temptations that are uniquely mine. But are those temptations only mine? Going on the strength of 1 Corinthians 10:13, maybe our temptations and sufferings really aren’t that unique. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NT). If temptations fall into a pattern of human frailty, maybe our temptations and sufferings aren’t that different from people around us.

We sometimes wonder if Christ really did experience every pain, affliction, sorrow that every person on earth has ever or will ever experience. The conceit of suffering suggests that no one can know, no one can possibly fathom just how difficult this temptation or challenge really is. The conceit of suffering also convinces us that if no one has experienced exactly what we’re going through, then no one can possibly help. And we effectively cut off the only real source of comfort, help, and healing that exists: Jesus.

He really did experience EVERY pain, sorrow, affliction, sickness, disappointment, temptation (Alma 7:11-12, BoM). He KNOWS. He understands what we’re going through. He wants to help. If we acknowledge His prior experience and accept His knowledge, we can open ourselves to help, healing, and change.

As for my temptations today, I don’t know if Jesus had any of His own kids to yell at, but He did experience mortality and I believe that He understands (at the very least) the weakness at the heart of my temptation to yell. He provided “an escape” for me several weeks ago (when I didn’t yell at my kids for a whole week!) and He can help me learn how to overcome my weakness, stop giving into temptation, and change my behavior to something more godly.

NT 4: Casting Out Fear

The other day my kids and I were discussing the angelic visitations recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. We named everyone who received such a visit (Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) and I asked the kids if they could remember the first thing the angel said to each person or group. My oldest daughter excitedly answered, “Don’t be afraid!” Why would an angel sent from God say “fear not” before anything else?

We could tie a specific expression of fear to each of the New Testament figures who received an angelic visitor. Zacharias may have been afraid of what people would think of a geriatric father. Mary could have feared for her socio-economic future and her life. Joseph was already afraid of society, shame, and (probably) what would happen to Mary if he divorced her. The shepherds may have been completely disoriented by the angel’s sudden brilliant appearance in the dead of night and probably feared for their lives and their sheep. Each group may have also been afraid at the outset of what God might require of them and feared being equal to the task.

Fear seems to be a universal emotion. In my mind it is distinctly tied to mortality. Fear doesn’t exist in the presence of God, in heaven––God is always encouraging us to cast out fear because it is contrary to His nature and what He wants us to experience (see 2 Timothy 1:7, NT).

I readily relate to the fear each group must have experienced. Fear is one of my default emotions: Fear of what people think of me, fear for my children when they’re out of my sight, fear for what my kids will pick up at school, fear of being shot down when I share the Gospel, the list goes on. The angel’s words of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 probably had a calming effect and created a sense of confidence and peace in the listeners. The words of 1 John 4:18 came to my mind as I pondered this theme and they had a similar effect on me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear….” How does “perfect love” cast out fear, I wondered? What does “perfect love” look like?

If I love my kids perfectly, then I prioritize Gospel learning with them and I have faith in the lessons we learn at home; I have hope in their salvation through Jesus Christ (should anything happen to them while out of my immediate care); I am able to see the bigger picture and don’t get caught up in minutiae. What if I loved God perfectly? If I love God perfectly, then I keep His commandments, I love and serve others willingly; I put God before anything else in my life, I prioritize scripture study and prayer; I turn the other cheek and don’t hold grudges; I trust fully in His power, His plan, and His love.

And then there will be no room for fear.

Day 55: Drop Everything for Your Kids

Alma 57

In my quest to become a better mother I have recognized a terrible weakness in myself that I need to deal with. I tend to obsess over things, including projects I take on, to the extent that I will doggedly pursue my objective regardless of what is going on around me. It’s a great trait for getting things done but it has some unexpected consequences for my children.

Alma 57 taught me a valuable lesson today about the importance of dropping a project to pursue a more pressing need of greater long term value. In Alma 57 the Nephite army sends out a prisoner transport under the direction of Gid to bring Lamanite prisoners from the recently acquired city Cumeni to Zarahemla. While the transport is underway, Nephite spies show up to warn Gid that the Lamanite army will imminently attack the city of Cumeni. The prisoners rebel upon overhearing the report and Gid’s transport is faced with a choice: fulfill their orders to take the prisoners to Zarahemla or act on the warning of the Nephite spies and fulfill the larger objective of maintaining the city Cumeni and keeping the army strong.

In many ways I face a similar choice almost every day with my kids. I will be working on a project or just doing something around the house that needs to be done and one of my kids will come tug on me with an urgent request. I usually keep working on what I’m doing and offer an appeasement, “I’ll come in just a minute,” “I’m almost done with this,” “can you give me a minute?” They usually continue pestering me until I come/listen, but my oldest daughter has started giving up if I don’t stop what I’m doing and pay attention right away. “Never mind,” she says dejectedly. Sometimes they don’t even ask me to look at things or to listen to a story anymore.

Gid’s small group of soldiers reacted to the prisoner rebellion as best they could but instead of doggedly pursuing the few that got away, the group of Nephite soldiers “took [their] march with speed towards the city Cumeni” (Alma 57:34). As a result, “we did arrive in time that we might assist our brethren in preserving the city” (ibid.). Rather than doggedly chase down escaping prisoners to fulfill their initial assignment, they heeded the warning of the spies and returned as quickly as possible to Cumeni where they saved the army and preserved the city.

If I want my children to talk to me (ever), if I want to be part of their daily play and investigation into the wonders of the world, I need to be like Gid’s group and drop what I’m doing. I need to stop letting my projects take priority over my children. They are my number one priority and I need to demonstrate that to them by listening, by playing, by being mentally, emotionally, and physically present. Yes there are going to be boundaries because sometimes an adult needs to not be interrupted but when I’m doing something that really could be put down for a few minutes, I need to walk away from the project and pay attention to my children. None of my projects are worth hurting my children’s feelings or damaging our relationship. It’s time for me to prioritize my children in everything I do because my relationship with them has eternal value and significance.

Day 53: Being a Mother Who Knows

Alma 56

The 2000 sons of the people of Ammon agreed to join the Nephite army and help defend their adopted homeland. They requested that the prophet Helaman lead them (Alma 53:19) and when, miraculously, none were killed in battle, Helaman asked how it could be. The answer? “[T]hey had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48).

This is the kind of mother I want to be. A mother who is trustworthy, who inspires confidence in and imparts knowledge of eternal significance to her children. The stripling sons believed their mothers and that reliance on their mothers’ testimonies provided a foundation of faith and space in which they could test their belief and develop their own faith and knowledge. They didn’t doubt that God would save them and their faith in His power was proven many times.

I have spent the last few months learning how to make the daily choices that allow me to become this kind of mother. I have learned that becoming this kind of mother must be intentional; such qualities develop out of the little decisions I make every day when I react to my kids’ behavior, respond to their requests, play with them (or put them off), engage them in learning (both spiritual and secular). I am finally accepting the reality that I have to stop letting less significant things take priority and pull me in different directions. I need to be intentional and proactive to become a mother who knows, whose children never doubt their “mothers knew.”

For further reading on this topic, check out Julie B. Beck’s talk “Mothers Who Know” from October 2007 General Conference.

Day 52: Taught to Keep the Commandments of God

Alma 53:17-21

By way of follow up, my husband and I began a Family Home Evening lesson series on the commandments. I had mentioned in a previous post that I felt the need to do this. So far it’s going well! We kicked off the series with a lesson activity discussing life and the many choices we get to make on a daily basis. I presented our family with a plate of bite size pieces of several varieties of chocolate. Scattered amongst the chocolate pieces were toothpick flags, each representing a choice. I wrote a scenario on one side of the flag and once someone had read the scenario and provided a response, s/he flipped the flag to read a commandment-oriented statement. One flag read, “It’s Sunday and a friend invites you to go to the movies.” The reverse side paraphrased the commandments to keep the Sabbath Day holy. My kids really enjoyed the hands-on experience (and now they want chocolate every Family Home Evening). We have continued with “love the Lord thy God” and “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39, NT). I struggle a little with making the lessons completely kid-friendly, but I really want to follow through on this prompting.

In case I was feeling a little discouraged, the perfect motivation popped up in my Book of Mormon reading. I’m in the midst of the war chapters of Alma and 2000 young men (sons of the people of Ammon) have joined the Nephite army to help “fight for liberty” and “to protect the land” (Alma 53:17). Despite being young, inexperienced, and untrained as soldiers, “they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity…. [T]hey were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted…. [T]hey were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God…” (Alma 53:20-21, emphasis added). This is what I want for my children! If I persevere, continue teaching them the commandments, and provide them with opportunities to grow their faith and personal testimonies, then they, too, will become valiant, courageous, strong, true, trustworthy, honest.