I was driving home tonight, holding my husband's hand, and was so enveloped in joy that I knee-jerk wondered - fear in the thought - "What horrible thing is going to happen next?"
Then I laughed at myself as a scripture came to mind: "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy."
For the record: in this context might does not mean or even imply maybe. I'm serious. Think about that for a second (unless you have known it for years. Even then, just take a second.)
How do I know? Well, grammatically, if it meant maybe we would be able to reword the scripture this way: "Adam fell that man perhaps could exist (there are no guarantee's after all), and men are (wait, didn't we just say that man might not be at all?) that they maybe could happen upon some joy if they were lucky while traipsing along their possible lives on earth; like accidentally stepping in gum or dog poop. Maybe."
I'm pretty sure that's not right. "Adam fell so man would exist, and men exist so they may/can experience joy." Implying that we could not have experienced joy without coming. Got it? Makes so much more sense. Especially coming from the God that I am familiar with and worship every day, whose commandments I keep because they bring me joy.
Anyway, so then I took a moment to examine why I assumed that something bad would happen just because I was so happy. It didn't take me long to find the infected root and the dirty water system that fed it. How many times have we heard "Opposition in all things" in a context that clearly states: "When there is good, bad will follow." Or "I am doing well now, so Satan will come at me again soon." Or even, "I better not get too used to these blessings, because they will be taken away eventually because - after all - 'opposition in all things.'"
I'm just going to say it: I'm getting really tired of people saying things they don't think about long enough to understand.
I know, I'm judging. I know that. I'd like to not to. Wait, that's another one of those things. "Judge not," they say, but then forget to include, "that ye be not judged." And they totally ignore the other scriptures regarding judgement, particularly this one in Matthew: "judge not unrighteously, … but judge righteous judgment."
I loved this by Dallin H. Oaks:
"I have been puzzled that some scriptures command us not to judge and others instruct us that we should judge and even tell us how to do it. But as I have studied these passages I have become convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity. The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles." View the entire talk here
I NEVER hear that part of it in a RS lesson. NEVER.
Not being taught properly may not seem like a big thing, but it must be. Because as I was experiencing a great feeling of joy, it was immediately followed by my feeling afraid, ashamed, anxious, and wary of what would be coming around the corner to take it away. I wondered what I must be ignoring because I couldn't possibly be righteous enough to be happy. If I knew myself and my eternal standing well enough, I wouldn't have time to feel this great joy. Right? Isn't that what I'm being taught and have been taught in RS and Young Women and Seminary for as long as I have been in those classes?
I believe that the teachers are attempting to teach humility and faith through hardship. But - and I'm coming up against a lot of this recently - no one is asking or answering the most important question: "Why?"
*Why are there hardships?
*Why do we have children?
*Why do we keep the commandments?
*Why do we pray?
*Why do we attend church?
*Why do we clean our houses?
*Why do we care for others?
*Why do we feed our children, husbands, pets and occasionally friends?
*Why do we pay tithing?
*Why do we do anything while on this earth?
I'll tell you the answer, just as the Lord has: Men are that they might have joy.
The whole reason for EVERYTHING is to experience joy. And whose job is it? God's? Actually He did His part already. He came up with a plan (fool-proof, really, seeing as the Atonement is INFINITE), made an earth, gave us a Savior and sent us down here with complete agency (meaning, the ability and freedom to act as our own agent, free of force.) It took a lot of guts for him to do that. Joy and progression must be pretty important.....
So God has done everything within His power to offer us joy. Of course, as they say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." You can give your children Christmas presents galore, but you can't make them happy. You can give your wife an evening away from the children when she asks for it, but you can't make her calm the heck down and appreciate how great it is to be with the children. You can buy a new car, but you can't control the other moron who just rear-ended you....
Father gave His children the world and all the tools needed to enable them on their joy-bound journey, but He, our great Father in Heaven, will not EVER force a single one of us to experience joy.
In that same vein, He will never take joy from us.
"Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.
He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind."
- Hymn 240
God is not playing a game of chess, nor is He running a lottery. Our nightly prayers or daily scripture studies do NOT enter us into that great contest in the sky and up our chances of getting His pre-determined number of blessings to fall on our heads rather than someone else's.
So why commandments? Because the children of Israel said, "What should we be doing?" And God has always told His children, "Ask and ye shall receive," so he gave them some pretty great advice.
Don't kill, don't steal, honor your parents, don't fornicate, keep the Sabbath Day holy etc.
(and hey - don't even get me STARTED on what I'm being taught about the Sabbath Day... I'll do a whole separate blog on that later.)
I've kept those commandments - or at least I've made it my life's work to keep those commandments - especially the "higher law" versions of "Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength" and "Love one another."
And ya know what, I'll tell you the result: I'm a pretty freaking happy woman.
I was not always so. Three years ago I had almost exactly what I have now.... but I wasn't happy. I mean, I was essentially happy or content or whatever, but what I'm feeling now is so vastly superior to that emotion that it really doesn't compare.
What changed? I did.
According to modern day prophetic advice, I upped my Gratitude. Holy make a difference, Batman!
Because, okay, eternal perspective. That means - assuming we trust in God and trust that the whole reason for this entire thing is our joy - we gotta look at every experience with the question: "So how does/can this bring me/heighten my joy?"
I'm not stupid and I realize that in many situations, there will absolutely seem to be no answer. At least no answer that is outside the realm of sarcasm. :) But let's remember the part where we are trusting God. He doesn't lie. When He says that "men are that they might have joy," He was absolutely NOT B.S.-ing us.
For instance, as we were driving home and my 22-week pregnant belly began to contract, signaling the coming snowstorm, and I whimpered with discomfort. Muad'Dib expressed his concern that perhaps this whole meteorological anomaly was odd and he didn't remember me going through that with the others..... which led us to think about my last two pregnancies. And boy do we have a lot to be thankful for with this one.
I look at what two dear women are going through, and I remember acutely what it felt like to experience frighteningly similar emotions in my own life. And I'm led to gratitude for all those times I was convinced that I was on the despair paved road to insanity. I'm grateful for the sub-par poetry that gave vent to those toxic thoughts. I'm grateful for every good and bad play I've been in that purged my soul of the over-supply of emotions. I'm grateful for the ultimatums that got me off my butt and showed me what I was made of. I'm also very grateful that I'm not going through it now. I'm grateful then for learning that sometimes my help is not helpful, so I can sit back and wait for a good time, or wait for someone to ask for my help.
I'm grateful for the teachers that have made things hard for me and my son, because through the experience, I have learned so much about myself, my boy and my daughter. My son has become closer with his Grandfather. I have truly realized how much my children need me.
I could go on. When it comes down to it, what I mean to say is that our joy is our responsibility. And in fact, it is intended to be our first priority.
So when I sat in my car tonight holding my husband's hand, when my daughter played with my hair as she fell to sleep, when I covered my son's face with kisses and listened to him speak with wonder about his coming little brother, I took a deep breath and let myself feel joy free of shame, fear or guilt. Because that's truly what my Father hoped for when He made the earth for me, gave His Son for me and sent me here with agency.
I'd better not let Him down. And really, with a calling like "go have joy," why would I want to?