Monday, June 25, 2007

the doctrine of letting go

This is the slightly altered text of a talk I gave in church on Sunday. It's watered down from my original train of thought, as the original thrust of it would have been given from a predominantly moho perspective. What I said was intended to be a bit more general. As such, it's also what I consider an unfinished work - I intend to continue studying the subject until I have a firmer grasp on what I'm looking at. Also please keep in mind that I am neither scriptorian nor public speaker, and I much of what I say is based on opinions, though my opinions represent strong personal convictions. Also, sorry it's so long. If you are an impatient person, please ignore this post. (:

Something that I’ve been pondering a lot recently is what I refer to as the “doctrine of letting go.” It’s a subject inspired by an especially powerful fireside speaker a few months ago, and it’s been percolating in my mind since then. It’s a multi-faceted aspect of the gospel, covering many areas of belief and devotion.

The topic has been approached from many angles, with some widely covering it while others focus on individual aspects. It has been referenced as surrendering, submitting, or consecrating, in part. The idea is that there are things that we ought to be giving up into the care of the Lord that we instead hold on and cling to – and that according to the precepts of the gospel, we should be developing ways to let go of those things. Of course there are many things that we ought to surrender to the Lord. The aspects of the doctrine of letting go that I have been examining are in reference to sins, will, and trials.

Letting go of sin is probably the most widely approached aspect of this doctrine. It is arguably the most visible component of the atonement of Christ (second only, perhaps, to the victory over the grave). The well-known verse in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16 states that “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” One of the direct benefits of letting go of one’s sins is the evasion of the suffering for them. It is generally considered that sin is one of the main topics of the similarly famous verse in Mosiah 3, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patent, 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” (Mosiah 3:19). The relinquishing of sin and surrendering of will effects a “mighty change” in a person, producing a saint who exhibits Christlike attributes like love, patience, humility, and meekness. Neal A. Maxwell warns,

'Mighty' changing, however, is mighty hard work, a labor made more difficult by heeding the unflattering urges of the natural man. Too often our possibilities have been muted by the mundane....Of course we cannot fully comprehend all this right now! Of course we cannot know the meaning of all things right now. But we can know, right now, that God knows us and loves us individually!
But, brothers and sisters, what keeps us from knowing and loving Him more? Our reluctance to give away all our sins—thinking, instead, a down payment will do. Likewise, our reluctance to let our wills be swallowed up in His will—thinking, instead, that merely acknowledging His will is sufficient! (see Mosiah 15:7). (Neal A. Maxwell, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” Liahona, Nov 2002, 16–18.)
Thus we come upon some of the obstacles to letting go of our sins and our wills. One of the first is the natural inclination to withhold a part of one’s inner self. We make excuses, claiming that such things are what make us unique, or distinct. And yet our individuality actually remains intact as we become more like Jesus. Another stumbling block to letting go is an unwillingness to confront what we lack – an inability to admit fault. This barrier to letting go is founded in pride, and tangent to it is the tendency to deflect the importance of something in order to pass it off for work at a later time. Sometimes we are plagued by selfishness, a lack of proper perspective, or even a lack of faith which keeps us from letting go. It is difficult to let go of something when perspective does not grant that that thing is wrong. Likewise, there is no point in surrendering something to someone who is not powerful enough to help. Perspective and faith are vital to letting go.

Elder Maxwell states again:
In pondering and pursuing consecration [or, letting go], understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, ‘My grace is sufficient for you” (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (see Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!
“Having our wills increasingly swallowed up by the will of the Father actually means an enhanced individuality, stretched and more capable of receiving ‘all that [God] hath’ (D&C 84:38). Besides, how could we be entrusted with His ‘all’ until our wills are much more like His? Nor could His ‘all’ be fully appreciated by the partially committed. (Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 39-42.)
The most overlooked aspect of the doctrine of letting go, in my opinion, is that of letting go of trials. Perhaps this is a more difficult aspect of doctrine to understand, or perhaps it is our independent natures that keep us from wanting to entrust our trials to something else. Often I think it is a warped understanding of the aim of the test of life. While we have been sent here to be tested, Heavenly Father by no means wants us to go through our tests alone. Even if all others seemingly abandon us, the Lord is always there to lean upon and to look towards. The trials that face us, while individually tailored, are not necessarily meant to be tackled alone. Did not the Lord say “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30)? Alma said that he “…desire[d] that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith….And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will” (Alma 33:23).

More from Elder Maxwell:
We tend to think of consecration [or letting go] only as yielding up, when divinely directed, our material possessions. But ultimate consecration is the yielding up of oneself to God. Heart, soul, and mind were the encompassing words of Christ in describing the first commandment, which is constantly, not periodically, operative (see Matt. 22:37). If kept, then our performances will, in turn, be fully consecrated for the lasting welfare of our souls (see 2 Ne. 32:9).
Such totality involves the submissive converging of feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds, the very opposite of estrangement. ("Consecrate Thy Performance")
Regarding trials, including of our faith and patience, there are no exemptions—only variations (see Mosiah 23:21). These calisthenics are designed to increase our capacity for happiness and service. Yet the faithful will not be totally immune from the events on this planet.
Therefore, we can be troubled on every side, but nothing can really separate us from the love of Christ (see 2 Cor. 4:8; Rom. 8:35–39); ... Even so, as Peter urged, we can and should cast our cares upon the Lord, because He surely cares for us! (see 1 Pet. 5:7). Oh, brothers and sisters, the awaiting emancipation of such trusting surrender! ("Encircled in the Arms of His Love")

The scripture that Elder Maxwell referenced was 1 Peter 5:6-7, which reads, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Many interpret this verse as meaning that Christ cares about us and takes care of us. However, from the context and with a tip from the original Greek, the meaning is more along the lines of Christ already doing the caring for us. We can surrender our concerns to the Lord, because he does all of our concerning! Obviously this doesn’t meant that we don’t do anything about the trials that face us, but rather it means that if we are doing that which is in our power, and if we are keeping ourselves as aligned with the will of God as we can, that we needn’t worry ourselves over the trials we face, because God will take care of us.

I have many personal experiences with letting go of my trials, and I'd like to share one of them. Leading up to my mission, my entire life I'd been the shining example of gospel living. I was a 'spiritual giant,' well-versed in scripture and doctrine. I had a strong testimony of what I felt to be true. That testimony was earned, and I was forced to stand up for myself due to the area in which I lived and the circumstances in which I found myself. Knowing the gospel has never been a question for me. Other things have - the semester before my mission, I felt prompted to take Mandarin 101 at BYU. I thought, hey, this can't be so bad. My cousin learned Chinese, and I'm half Chinese, and even if my family doesn't speak the same dialect, it's sure to help, right?

I got a D that semester.

And so when the call invariably came to preach the gospel in Mandarin Chinese, I knew it wouldn't be me doing the learning in the MTC. Alone, I was powerless. With the Lord's help, I would be capable of great things. And so when I got to the MTC, it was a great surprise, a stunning miracle, and an obvious blessing that the language came easily to me. In fact, I picked it up faster than anyone else in my district. It was almost natural. My entrusting my trial to the Lord paid off.

That wasn't the extent of it, though, because I hadn't fully learned my lesson. One of the first teaching opportunities I had was teaching my afternoon teacher a discussion with my MTC companion. It was even in English. We prepared, and we tried to teach, but it was a fantastically horrible experience. The Spirit wasn't there, we couldn't figure out what to say, and my teacher was dozing off while we were teaching. It was horrendous, and we all knew it didn't go well. That night as I knelt to pray, I pleaded to know what went wrong, and what I should have done differently.

Now, when I learn scriptures, I remember them by their position on the page and by the markings I put on them. I have a hard time remembering references. And so when a scripture reference popped into my head, I knew it wasn't just my own recollecting. I felt urged to look up Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” My confidence in my own knowledge of the gospel and what I figured was inherent ability to teach it was my downfall that day. I strived to change my ways, and while I will never claim that I was the most masterful missionary or teacher, I was successful, and I had the Spirit with me. Letting go of my trials and trusting the Lord with control made the difference for me.

As we face trials that are specifically tailored to our individual life experiences, we sometimes feel to play the martyr. We feel that the trials given to us are too hard to bear, an unfair lot, or somehow more than we deserve. As a loving Father in Heaven, we know that God will not tempt us above that we are able – this extends to trials, as well. We will not be tried beyond what we are capable of handling. Our trials are also there to help mold us into the children of God that we ought to be. Letting go of trials not only means trusting the Lord to help us through, but trusting that He knows best what we need, that He knows us better even than we know ourselves, and “that all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good” (D&C 122:7). Our experiences shape who we are, and by letting go of our sins, our wills, and our trials, we allow ourselves to be shaped like the Savior. As we overcome the stumbling blocks and obstacles that stand in our way, and as we earnestly strive to consecrate ourselves to the Lord, “we shall see him as he is” and “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

It is my testimony that “letting go” is of great importance to us in our endeavors to be like Christ and to progress in this life.


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