Monday, December 7, 2009

Miserable Like Unto Himself

When we take Christ's name upon us -- when we really take not just the name but everything that comes with the name -- we become more like Christ. We begin to resemble him in our capacity for love and compassion, in our ability to reach out and heal, in our hunger to find and bring in and hold on to the lost, to leave the ninety-and-nine to go after the one.

But Christ is not the only one who desires for us to become like him. The scriptures describe Satan as one who "seeketh that all... might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2: 27). If Christ is the embodiment of love, showing us how to walk in the way of compassion like he did, Satan is the embodiment of misery, seeking to make us "twofold more the child of hell."

I occasionally encounter the disciples of misery in real life, though they seem to show their true colors far more freely in the anonymity of the Internet. They claim to be true believers in Jesus Christ, but what strikes me more than the name that they claim is the reality that they are profoundly unhappy people, and that what makes them most unhappy of all is my apparent happiness. Their interactions with others are invariably toxic, always bristling with condemnation, impatience and anger. They alone have the truth, and all others are lost. Their preferred methods are shame and fear, and they don't mind a little coercion either. They love to brandish God's sword of judgment (or a cheap imitation thereof) as if it were their own to wave about and threaten whom they will with it.

If love is contagious, so is fear and hate. And so, although we ought to immediately recognize Satan and all his works for what they are, giving them not the least bit of heed, all too often we let ourselves get sucked into the hate- and fear-fest that the disciples of misery and contention delight in spreading all around them -- on the Internet and wherever else they can. Though the Internet seems to be an especially effective forum. The immediacy and anonymity/publicity of the Internet make it far too easy to put forever into print spiteful words that would have benefited humanity most by being forgotten.

I've occasionally gotten caught in these orgies of contention. Sometimes I thought it was for a good reason -- in defense of others that I love, or to uphold some cherished truth. But it never comes out the way I'd hoped. There's never any positive resolution. No truth upheld. Just resentment and rotten feelings and a pit at the bottom of my stomach.

There's a reason Christ warned:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7: 1-2)

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5: 22)

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11: 29)
Judgment has a tendency to multiply itself. When people judgmentally attack, there's a visceral reaction. We feel judged, we want to defend. We defend by counter-judging. We polish our own shield of righteousness; we sharpen our own sword of truth and then we go on the attack.

It's such an easy trap to fall into. We rationalize our own judgments by clinging tightly to our certitude, and telling ourselves that all we really want to do is "help" others understand the error of their ways. We like to see ourselves as shining knights of truth, but the truth is that in relation to one another and in relation to God we are beggars and debtors. The sin in the eye of the other is always a mote in comparison with our beam; our debt is always ten thousand talents in comparison with the with the hundred pence our debtor owes us. Why is our sin always greater? Because it is our failure to let go of others' faults, our failure to forgive and let live that keeps us blind, that lands us in prison, that bars us from the wedding feast, no matter what the size of our sin. Their sin can't damn us. Only ours can.

When someone comes at us with fear, shame, and accusations, they come as missionaries of misery, eager for us to partake of what they have. What we often fail to realize is that they seal the deal the moment we prefer contention with them. If we resist the temptation to engage in their fear/anger/shame cycle, we have a chance not only of elevating ourselves, but them too.

It's not that individuals can't differ or disagree. In fact, disagreement is a good and healthy and helpful thing. When someone sees something differently than I do, it is a sure sign that they have a different perspective from me. Multiple perspectives are a good thing, to those who are interested in actually seeing. So I welcome difference. I want dialog, not monologue, not echo chambers. Some of the most profound, transformative experiences I've had in life have been those difficult and sacred conversations, where two people come at each other from completely different angles, and wrestle for understanding of each other. I long for that.

But I can smell a mile away the ones that don't really have anything to say, because they're simply threatened and angry, and too deafened by the voices in their heads to hear anything you really say to them.

We are often vulnerable to those types, because we have our own weaknesses, our own issues, our own struggles. So one of the profoundest, most valuable spiritual practices we can learn is how to steady our own hearts with patience and hope and love. When we center ourselves in Christ, we won't get distracted by the shouting. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

But sometimes that's the most difficult thing we can do, especially when we are most hurting and most vulnerable. The waves and the storm seem more real than the Christ standing serenely before us. Fortunately, when our faith is not enough to keep us from sinking, he's still there with his hand outstretched, to lift us back up and help us walk the waves again by his side.


Bravone said...

Thanks John, and thanks for your comment on my blog earlier. I always value your perspective and appreciate the spirit you radiate.

Anonymous said...

This is very profound and insightful. And, I agree compeltely with what you have said. There are certain people who, as you called it, are embassaries of misery. Their whole puprose in life is to be miserable and to draw those around them into that same misery. One's natural reaction, when accosted by such a person, is to contend and therefore "join in" the misery. It takes a whole different set of life skills and hopes NOT to engage in that kind of animosity.

As Bravone said, I, too, ALWAYS value your radiant spirit and the truth that comes through in what you say.

As always, with love and respect.

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