This is an exploration of my own thoughts. I still have as many questions as answers, but I think I am on to something. I want to talk about how our thinking in mortality affects us as we try to cast off the natural man. Please, give me the benefit of the doubt. I really believe I have some thoughts here that can help you in how you see mortality and the atonement.
My wife and I are virtual service missionaries for West Africa for PathwayConnect, the introductory year’s program for the Pathway Worldwide curriculum. This year of classes prepares the students for the regular college classes that come when they are officially accepted into the Pathway program. We are in our first semester helping these students with their weekly gatherings. The topic for today’s gathering was Thinking Errors, and how they affect us spiritually. That is one of the great things about an education through the Pathway program – everything is spiritual!
As background, and as information for you to think about, I would like to include the 10 thinking errors discussed in this week’s curriculum. These are all things we experience that trip us up and make life more difficult for us. It is their commonness that makes them so deadly. We all experience them on a regular basis. It is about these ten thinking errors I want to link to the natural man later on.
Victimization – You feel like you are being harmed by people that have no intention of harming you.
Pride – Your perceived status in the world is based on how you compare to others. One of the main traits of pride is that it is combative or competitive in nature. Those who accept pride as a way to live are always in a competition with everyone else. Winning is everything.
Entitlement – You deserve this or that because of your perceived status in the world.
Powerlessness – You can’t do this. You can’t do that. You can’t even try.
Giving Up – Because you messed up, you give up and stop trying.
Justification – You can commit this sin, because it is not a big deal, or you’re being pressured into it, or you deserve a little fun, etc.
Scarcity Mentality – There is never enough (fun, food, money, opportunities, etc.). It is not that there isn’t enough just for you, but that there simply isn’t enough in the world to go around.
People Pleasing – You must please or impress others to maintain your value as a person or to keep from being devalued as a person.
Minimize/Catastrophize – You distort issues, events, choices, etc. to make them smaller/bigger than they really are. Think of the drama queen who blows everything out of proportion, or the person who dismisses all their problems as unimportant points (mainly because they don’t want to address them for the valid issues they are).
Deceit – You tell yourself something is different than the way it really is. This can be very similar to justification if the person always puts a spin on their thinking or their behavior so that no matter what they do or say, they convince themselves they were right to do or say that thing. They always paint themselves as the hero. Those suffering from deceit find it difficult to acknowledge they might have a problem.
Everything that follows after this relates to these thinking errors.
Put off the natural man
Now that I have given you the first part, let’s look at the second part. After that we will look at how these two parts might relate to each other. We all know that we have been commanded to put off the natural man and become a Saint. This is much easier said than done, for it means overcoming everything that we, as humans, naturally are. Part of that difficulty is identifying what it is we need to get rid of. Here is the commandment as found in Mosiah 3:19.
19 For the is an to God, and has been from the of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he to the enticings of the , and off the man and becometh a through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a , , meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
This is a lot to consider all in one sentence, and yes, that whole verse is just one sentence.
1 – The natural man is, has been, and always will be an enemy to God.
2 – The only way to not be what is natural to us is to yield ourselves to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit.”
3 – When we yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit we become a saint through the atonement of Christ. We become as a child. Children are submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, and are willing to submit to all things the Lord sees fit to inflict upon him, just like a child does to his father.
I don’t know about you, but breaking the verse down like that helps me make more sense of the verse because it is in smaller chunks. Each chunk can be thought about independently and processed mentally as its own piece of counsel or information. Now let’s look at how this verse relates to the ten thinking errors from the PathwayConnect lesson.
Enemy to God
We might currently be an enemy to God, but we certainly didn’t start out this way. In the premortal life we lived with Him. I am shooting from the hip here, but this is what I believe – We loved our Father. He openly demonstrated His love for each of us. We would have felt safe and secure in that love. I have a hard time imagining that we would have doubted our worth to Him. Everything I have ever read about communicating in the heavenly realms tells me intuitively that there are no mishaps in communication. There what we intend to say is clearly transmitted to those to whom we speak, and everyone understands us as we mean to be understood.
I have no scripture to back up my feelings on these views, but they feel right to me. I would love your feelings or comments on this as well. You are welcome to put them in the comments below and tell me if you prefer they be kept private. I will certainly honor that wish.
The reason I put the two paragraphs above under the heading called Enemy to God is because I don’t believe we have always been at odds with our Father in Heaven. I honestly believe we were very much in sync with each other in many ways before coming here. So why are we now His enemy? It can’t be solely based on the fact that we were born into mortality. There must be more to it than mere birth into a physical body. What follows are some what if statements I would like you to consider.
What if being born into mortality, with the necessary veil of forgetfulness in place, makes us susceptible to wrong patterns of thinking that damage us by damaging our progression and our relationships with others? In short, the thinking patterns that naturally come with the mortal body causes us to condemn ourselves. And this is in addition to the actual desires and needs of the body. It really is a stacked deck, and not in our favor.
Consider this – our native confidence, because of the love and acceptance we felt in our heavenly home, doesn’t exist here. We never really know how someone else feels about us. We can’t read their thoughts or feelings. We are very much alone in a crowd, cut off from the heavenly connections we were privileged to share before we came here. This opens the door for Satan and his ilk to have a field day with our insecurities.
When we try to talk to someone and have an intimate conversation, instead of knowing exactly how they feel and what they desire, and instead of communicating perfectly our own feelings and desires, everything gets messed up. We use the wrong word and offer offense instead of the reconciliation we wanted. We see an expression on their face we either don’t fully understand or worse yet, think we do fully understand, only to learn later we were completely wrong. Or we state our feelings and the other person says they understand, only to learn later, or never at all, that they really didn’t understand what we were trying to communicate.
This sense of precarious communication leads to second guessing ourselves, which leads us to errors in our thinking. And it is these propensities for making errors in our thinking that Satan exploits so well. I will use part of an example from the PathwayConnect curriculum. Let’s look at Jane, who wants to quit smoking. She does really well for three weeks, but feels extra stress one day and has one cigarette. What happens next? Can you fill in the pattern from the list of 10 above?
The first thing that happens to Jane when she has smoked the cigarette is she feels guilty then she feels shame for her failure to stay clean from her addiction. Next she is hit with a sense of powerlessness because she wasn’t able to stay 100% strong, even in times of great stress, so she gives up. After all, what is the point? “I have failed and not been perfect, so why am I putting myself through this when I know I am just going to fail again?” She may even try to alternatively either exaggerate her failure or minimize her failure in her effort to deal with the mess she feels she has made.
Do you see yourself in this example? I certainly see myself, for this is me in spades. Thinking errors, I believe are a natural part of our mortal experience. Without help we will more often than not fall into some type of thinking error, because we don’t know the real truth. We don’t see things for the way they really are. That is what makes mortality so difficult, we are operating largely in the dark. We have our conscience to help us with the difference between right and wrong, but what about everything else?
Yielding to the Spirit
We’ve looked at the first part of Mosiah 3:19. Now let’s look at the second and third parts. Part two is to yield ourselves to the Spirit. The act of yielding to the Spirit is what causes everything we are supposed to become in part 3, which is to become humble, submissive, etc. Why does yielding ourselves to the Spirit cause these things to happen?
Think about the Spirit’s role in our life. What is his job? How does he do what he does? His role is to teach and testify. He is the connection we have to have to change who and what we are into something more than what and who we are. It is the Spirit who reveals all things spiritual to us. He tells us when we have found truth. This is something not available to anyone else in mortality, for the kind of truth we seek is an eternal thing, and the mortal mind cannot ferret out eternal things on its own. Eternal truths have to be revealed by a third party, and that is the Spirit. That is what he does.
This means that when we choose to believe that God can answer our prayers, and we back up that belief with the action of prayer, the Spirit can then, in response to our submission to the eternal law of seeking truth, reveal our answers to us. We pray for a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and the Spirit witnesses to our soul that it is true. It feels so good to receive that kind of witness, because it is the kind of truth we were raised with in the world of spirits. That kind of truth was what was common to us there. That is my belief. I believe that this is why receiving a witness from the Spirit feels like “coming home.”
When we submit ourselves to the Spirit, and seek to be guided by him through the covenants we have made with God, the Spirit begins the process of teaching us where we are wrong in our thinking. He helps us learn to think in productive ways, learning to acknowledge when we have thought and behaved wrongly, and helps us seek to think and behave in correct and profitable ways. This is God, our Father’s way of teaching us to connect back to our heavenly ways while we are still in mortality. But it takes a lot of trust and practice on our part.
What gets fixed
Yielding our lives to be lead by the Spirit doesn’t automatically solve all our problems, but it is a good start. The act of submitting to him and his guidance in our life brings us humility. It introduces a greater desire to repent, because we learn from experience that once we know we have done wrong, if we change and do what is right, joy is what follows. That is the atonement at work. And it doesn’t stop there. Repenting brings not only joy, but the changes in how we think and feel, because of the Spirit’s tutelage also brings us into alignment with the commandments, which means we become justified before God. To be justified means we are no longer at odds with Him, specifically because we are no longer breaking His commandments. This means we are no longer His enemy, but we become His friend.
By yielding ourselves to the teachings of the Spirit, we learn to do those ten thinking errors less and less. We learn to trust that all truth can be found through the Spirit’s guidance and counseling. It includes our study of the scriptures, our time on our knees in prayer, and our changes in how we live our lives. As we seek the Spirit’s approval, he teaches us to start living like the celestial people we want to become, to live like Jesus. We learn that ministering is not just an assignment that needs to be dealt with, but a privilege to learn to love someone not of our own household in the same way we value those of our own household.
Practicing life in this “higher and holier way” opens the door to clarity of thought and direction on how to live our lives that was not available to us before we sought out the Spirit’s teaching and guiding influence. He is the master teacher. It is his job to bring us home to God by using the atoning sacrifice of the Savior to teach us how to become like the Savior. He infuses our lives with eternal truths that are not available to mortals who haven’t made covenants with God. He teaches us to be more patient with others, to stop assuming things we shouldn’t assume. He shows us how to forgive and not take offense. In short, the Spirit teaches us to be like Christ in all the most important ways.
Before today I never imagined that all my wrong thinking, those habits that keep getting me into trouble in this life, came with getting my body. I never imagined that what makes up the natural man is not just my body’s native passions and desires, but also includes the limitations on my abilities to communicate and identify those things of an eternal nature. Mortality is bound up in itself, and its own temporary nature. Only by yielding myself to the Spirit, and learning how to be lead by him, am I able to utilize the Savior’s atonement for me and become something more than mortality could ever offer me.
It wasn’t until today that I figured out how this life is the stepping stone to the rest of eternity. I used to think we were only here to get a body. Now I believe that in addition to getting that all important body, we are here to learn to place ourselves squarely in the Lord’s care, trusting through faith that He can teach us to overcome all our challenges that come with this mortal probation. These lessons learned here teach us how we will need to be guided in the eternities as the Lord teaches us how to become gods. We will have to have the body we first got here, yes. But we will have to learn to look to the eternities and focus on eternal truths if we are to make good use of our resurrected bodies. This is what we learn when we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit. It is he who teaches us to think like God while we are still in the flesh.
Don’t get me wrong, we have such a long way to go before we will ever be truly gods. But the journey starts here in mortality, and our time here is short and precious. As we seek to be taught by the Spirit we will see that the changes he will affect in our lives will eliminate many of the thinking errors that come so naturally to the natural man. We will learn to think in higher ways than the natural man. You might even say we will learn to think and feel like a Saint.