Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 19 - Inviting God to Put Forth His Finger

The “what” of revelation is common and critical.  Every day before I go forth to serve, I ask the Lord what He would have me do.  He normally helps me with that.  While He also helps me with the “how to do it” part as well, that part seems to be more left up to me.  Often, I am left, like Nephi, to go forward in companionship with the Holy Ghost, “not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”[1]  Nephi knew the “what.”  He was supposed to obtain the Brass Plates of Laban.  The “how” was left more to his own inventive initiative.  I believe this is to help us to learn and grow.
The same principle applied to The Brother of Jared.  His “what” was to build barges and cross the sea.  When he sought to obtain light for the barges the Lord asked Mahonri Moriancumer what he would have Him do.  He wanted His servant to use and develop his own imagination.  Mahonri then went and molten out of rock sixteen small stones with the intent that they would provide light during the long passage across the sea.
I am quite certain that in preparing those stones to be presented before the Lord, this great prophet put forth his very best effort.  Still, despite all his exertions the stones did not shine forth with any light.  How often do our best efforts fall short as well?  How often do we, with the best of intentions and earnest effort come up short of our objectives?
So, the Book of Ether tells us that The Brother of Jared took those sixteen stones to the Lord and then, acknowledging his own weakness as well as the infinite might and power of God, requested the He put forth his finger and touch them that they might shine.
When we go to speak in Sacrament Meeting, or give a Family Home Evening lesson, or prepare a Home Teaching message, do we do our best to prepare the thing which we intend?  Then falling short, in our mortal weakness, do we present our best efforts before the Lord and request that He put forth his finger and touch them that they might shine forth in the brilliance of truth and testimony?  We can.  We are afforded every privilege given to the Jaredite prophet.  We can take our efforts to the Lord and be assured that He will lend His grace and assistance to make our efforts shine.
Consider applying this principle to parenthood, marriage, church service, efforts in your employment, indeed every endeavor in life.
Perhaps most important in understanding the story of the sixteen small stones is the fact that The Brother of Jared began with the intention of needing and receiving the Lord’s help.  He did not create those stones thinking he might somehow get lucky and shape stones that would shine of their own accord.  He knew from the beginning of the project that he would require the added power and influence of God.  His approach to the Lord was not one of, “Well, that didn’t work, guess I’ll have to beg the Lord to rescue this mess.”   Rather it was one that intended to have God’s power infused into it from the very beginning.
It must also be the same with us.  From the very beginning of our marriage we would do well to understand that without the touch of God, it will not shine as it might.  The same goes for the lessons we teach, the service we render, the projects and assignments we undertake, the meals we prepare…
Such was not the attitude of the tower builders of Babel, but it was so of the barge builders called the Jaredites.


[1] 1 Nephi 4:6

Chapter 18 - Prayer

When we listen to the formal prayers given at church as well as those offered in family and other group settings, we tend to get the impression that our prayers must be that formal and carefully spoken.  For me, the result was that I spent most of my life expressing in my prayers, those things I felt the Father wanted to hear.  Not until much more recently did I discover that prayer should be much more intimate and disclosing than that.
Picture what you would express to a respected acquaintance compared with what you would tell your closest confidant.  Personal prayer should be much more like the latter.
Only when we feel free to approach God with our deepest fears, our most intimate concerns, our broken hearts and our scariest confusion, can we fully address them with He who would deliver us.
I eventually discovered that I could only recover from addiction, by praying while I was using, not just during some remorseful moment afterward.
The first thing Adam and Eve did after they partook of the fruit was to hide from God.  As ridiculous as that notion sounds, we do it all the time.  And, like the ostrich with his head in the sand, we are much more exposed than we think we are.  The purpose of full, open disclosure is for our benefit, not God’s.
Of course we are ashamed of the circumstances we place ourselves in.  Of course we’d rather God not know about it.  God knowing about it is not at issue though.  Certainly He knows.  So, believing in Him and believing He can help, would we not be well served if we just approached Him and said, “Here I am again, doing something that I know Thou dost not approve of.  It doesn’t make me happy.  I wish I could stop.  Oh, Father, what is it that makes me so weak and irresponsible that I cannot quit this behavior.  I am so sorry to offend Thee like this.  I don’t want to.  It’s as though I just can’t help it.  Could Thou please open my heart and mind to an understanding of my foolishness?  Could Thou please grant me a measure of grace that I might overcome my natural inclinations? 
I remember the first time I did this.  It was as though my heart was a smelly can of worms.  Figuratively, I ripped open my chest before God and said.  “Okay, here it is.  I’m ashamed of it.  I wish it weren’t so.  I have no one to blame but myself.  My heart is corrupt and I am mortified by it.  But, here it is.  Would Thou please change it?  Clean it up?  I can’t.  I’ve tried.”
I was sitting in a Sunday meeting once when we were admonished to pray always.  I had heard that admonition often in my life.  That particular day though, it occurred to me that I was always having a conversation with myself.  Why not, rather, have a conversation with God.  Should that require more effort?  I don’t think so.  In fact, practicing it, I have discovered that it actually requires less.
My conversations with myself are usually negative.  Negative self-talk they call it.  In AA they call it “stinkin’ thinkin.”  Here’s a recent example of how that works.
I happened to be driving down the road and noticed someone wave at me.  My automatic response, of course, was to wave back; which I did.  Then the conversation started in my head:  “That was a nerdy wave.  You’ve got to come up with a cooler wave than that!”
I spent the next several miles in the car practicing a “cool” wave and berating myself for being such a nerd.
Had I been conversing with God instead of myself, I’d likely have had a much more positive, productive conversation.  For one thing, God is not about comparisons.  It probably doesn’t affect Him at all if I’m a nerd.
The morning after making this discovery I determined to put it into practice.  I determined that I would converse with God all day and never with myself.  Easier said, than done.  Still I was determined to try and though I quite often had to reorient myself to my new purpose, I did converse with God a good deal more that day.  A good deal more than I ever have.  I began to see myself as Tevye from The Fiddler on the Roof.  I consider him a good example of constant prayer – constant conversation with God.
I was working that day as a delivery driver.  As I approached one of my stops I came to realize that I was going to be in an awkward situation with my “constant prayer.”  This particular stop was a business who had hired a very attractive receptionist.  Other women in the organization were openly displeased that the boss had placed a sexy “ornament” at the front desk.  They felt that her only purpose was to attract ogling men to the enterprise.  They were probably right.  It is difficult to admit, but I had been one such.  She did not dress modestly and she seemed to enjoy being ogled.  Each day as I approached her desk with packages and requested her signature my conversation with myself was one that embarrasses me to recall.
On this particular day, though, I wasn’t having a conversation with myself.  I was being accompanied on my rounds with my companion, the Holy Ghost.  I was conversing with Him.  As I approached the front desk I found myself explaining to God that I was uncomfortable with the situation, given my track record.  I felt the Spirit point out that she was a daughter of God and that objectifying her was just as displeasing as I knew it to be.  When I handed her my clipboard I turned slightly to look elsewhere.  When she returned it I looked into her eyes and genuinely thanked her.  Seeing her as a daughter of God, I felt a measure of respect and concern that had not accompanied previous encounters.
From then on I took my Holy companion with me every time I entered that office.  The next time was interesting.  As I approached she discreetly covered her cleavage with her hand.  Later, she began wearing more modest outfits.  One day, she put photos of her children next to her computer.  I commented on them and how sweet they seemed.  Then one day she made a very startling statement:  “You probably don’t remember, but you used to be my Home Teacher when I was a little girl.”  I did remember, though I certainly hadn’t made the connection.  As we remembered those days, her eyes misted up and I sensed that while she had become a different person on the outside, inside she was still a sweet, hopeful person of value.  How thankful I am to be spending my days viewing life from the perspective of Heaven rather than that of the flesh.
Heavenly Father knows how real our lives are.  He is not na├»ve about out “natural” tendencies.  He desires that we approach Him with honesty and candor.  How can He help us with our problems if we refuse to discuss them with Him?  It is so important that we express our fears and frustrations.   Identifying them before God puts them in a new perspective as He shines the light of truth into our darkness.  Having done so, the spontaneous outflow is gratitude as we acknowledge His hand in all things.

Chapter 17 - The Choice Is Not Between Bondage and Freedom

We all have choices and we often struggle with them.  We know what choices will make us happy and yet, for some mysterious reason we hesitate to make them.  Why do we do that to ourselves?  I found the answer in a very surprising place.
In her wonderful book My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen I found my answer.  In the book Rachel reminisces about her childhood with her Grandfather.  Grandfather was a Orthodox Jewish Rabbi who had been driven from Russia in the Pogroms of the early part of the last century.  Rachel’s parents had become Socialistic Atheists so Grandfather took every opportunity to teach Rachel about God.  On one occasion he and Rachel attended a Seder at Passover.  Too young to understand fully what the ritual meal was all about Grandfather sat her down and told her the story of the Exodus.  He told her of the plight of the children of Israel.  He told her of Moses seeking their deliverance from Pharaoh.  He told her of the plagues and of Pharaoh’s hardened heart which was finally softened by the plague that took the lives of the first born children of the Egyptian’s.  Here is the rest of the story in Rachel’s own words:
“What happens next?”...”Well, Moses brings the news of their freedom to the rest.” He told me.  “Are the very happy, Grandpa?”
“No Neshume-le (Grandpa’s term of endearment), they are not.  They told Moses that they did not want to go.  They asked many questions.  Where are we going?  Who will feed us?  Where will we sleep?  Moses was deeply surprised.  He could not answer any of these questions and he did not know what to do…
I was surprised…”But they were suffering, Grandpa.  Why didn’t they want to go?”  My grandfather looked sad.  “They knew how to suffer,” he told me.  “They had done it for a long time and they were used to it.  They did not know how to be free…”
I was shocked.  “But what about the Promised Land, Grandpa?  Wasn’t it true?”
“Yes it was true, Neshume-le, but the choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom.  We will always have to choose between slavery and the unknown...”
I sat for a while thinking of this story, my mind full of pictures.  One of them was an image of a long ragged line of people, moving out from the land where they had lived for generations into the darkness and emptiness of the desert, with all their bundles of belongings, their dogs and their cats and their crying children.  And at the head of this procession of complaining, worrying, and doubting people is God Himself, in the form of a Pillar of Fire.
“Why does God come Himself, Grandpa?”
“Ah Neshume-le, many people have puzzled over this question and have thought many different things.  What I think is that the struggle toward freedom is too important for God to leave to others.  And this is so because only the people who become free can serve God’s holy purposes and restore the world.  Only those who are not enslaved by something else can follow the goodness in them.”[1]
I was thunderstruck by the truth of the dear Rabbi’s observation.  I was indeed afraid of the unknown.  Aren’t we all?  We think we’d like to try freedom, but our hearts and minds are filled with unanswered questions.  Will my friends reject me?  Will I be happy?  How will I fill my time?  How will I face by problems?  How will I deal with disappointment?  Where can I turn for help?  Who will feed me?  The list is as infinite as our problems; a list that is inspired by Satan.
We don’t know what to expect of freedom.  It has been to long since we knew about it.  I remember reading the biography of Viktor Belenko[2] who defected from the USSR during the cold war.  At first he couldn’t believe the results of freedom weren’t just propaganda.  When he finally accepted that he had a very hard time making decisions.  He was completely unprepared to choose among clothes on a rack, or various cuts of meat, or what to do with his life.  The shock of freedom eventually wore off as he became more accustomed to his new life.  I can’t imagine how fearful and difficult it must have been for Belenko to make the decision to flee his bondage.  In many cases life in addiction and other oppressive circumstances must get just that miserable before we are willing to take such an enormous leap.
We do this to others as well.  I have an acquaintance who was cohabitating with a friend.  She became sober and free of her addiction.  He had not.  Someone asked her why she hadn’t encouraged his recovery.  Eventually, she had to admit that she hadn’t out of fear.  “If he is sober what will he be like?”  “Will he still need me?  Love me?”  She had stepped into part of her unknown, but remained afraid of the other. 
We all resist change and fear is the reason.  I conclude this chapter with a final quote from Rachel Naomi Remen:
The story my grandfather told me did not happen thousands of years in the past.  It is happening now.  It is the story of every…person I have ever known.  It is my own story
The slavery that keeps us from following our goodness is an inner slavery.  We are trapped by ideas of worthlessness and lack of self-esteem, by desire or greed or ignorance.  Enslaved by notions of victimhood or entitlement.  It is a story about the fear of change, about clinging to places and behaviors that are small and hurtful because letting go of them will mean facing something unknown.  I heard again my grandfather’s words:  “The choice is never between slavery and freedom; we must always choose between slavery and the unknown.”
Freedom is as frightening now as it was thousands of years ago.  It will always require a willingness to sacrifice what is most familiar for what is most true.  To be free we may need to act from integrity, on trust, sometimes for a long time.  Few of us will reach our promised land in a day.  But perhaps the most important part of the story is that God does not delegate this task.  Whenever anyone moves toward freedom, God Himself is there.


[1]  Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings, The Real Story, page 370
[2] MIG Pilot by John Barron

Chapter 16 - Trusting God - With Others


It is not uncommon in the business of addiction recovery to witness the horror of relapse on the part of another.  We see the telltale signs.  We try to intervene.  We hope to stave off the inevitable and all too often we only exacerbate the problem.  The truth remains that we each have our agency and it also remains that interfering with that agency is manipulative.  I know, you’re probably saying, “The definition of manipulation requires a self serving motivation on my part.  I am not interested in myself; I am concerned about my friend.”  On the surface this may be true, but this chapter is about control and wanting to be in control is always self serving.
I remember when I first began attending 12 Step Meetings there was a great deal of angst about a particular individual who was dangerously falling off the wagon.  That person did fall and wound up close to death in the emergency room.  Weeks in rehab ensued and the individual returned to join our group with a whole new humility and presence.  Not too many years passed before this person was a guiding light for the rest of us.  Her precipitous fall and subsequent calamity had been just the thing she needed to set her on a solid path to recovery.  Where she was once casual in her efforts, she became serious and intense.  She became an example to us all.
Then one day, another of our number began to show signs of relapse.  Again panic seemed to be the order of the day.  “How can we intervene?!”
It was then that it occurred to me that we were yet children in understanding the principles of recovery.
We had all come to accept Step One.  We had willingly admitted that we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.  But, we had not realized that the same principle applied to our relationships with those around us.  We needed to admit that we were powerless over their addiction and that we were utterly unable to manage the consequences of their behavior.  Step one is admitting that I have a problem I can’t fix and by extension, with regard to others; admitting too, that they have a problem I can’t fix.
It follows then that Step Two also applies to others as well as us.  We needed to come to believe that the Power and Atonement of Jesus Christ could not only restore us to complete spiritual health, but our friends and neighbors also.
Finally, Step three, we needed to turn them over to God, just like we had turned our own lives over to Him.  We had learned we could trust ourselves to His care and keeping, but we were reluctant to do so with those around us.
It is a painful thing to accuse myself of manipulation.  It is so easy to justify.  I can tell myself until I am blue in the face that I am only seeking what is best for my daughter, or friend, or neighbor.  But am I?
If I am acting out of fear; I am acting selfishly.  Fear is selfish.  Fear is an indicator that I want things to go my way and I am afraid they won’t unless I or someone else does something.
What if, instead, I act in faith?  What if I trust God?  What if I truly believe that God loves His children and has their best interest in mind?  What if I actually, willingly, trustingly, turn all of my problems over to His care and keeping?  That is selfless, and there is no manipulation in it.  That approach is based on the Plan of Salvation.  That approach acknowledges the merits and mercy of Christ.  That approach is born of testimony; of the belief that God loves our loved ones even more than we do.  It is born of the conviction that it is indeed God’s “work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[1]
We often hear in 12 Step groups that “when the pain of the problem gets worse than the pain of the solution, you will change.”  This is so true.  Too often, though, we find ourselves trying to help people avoid the pain that will inevitably cause the change of heart we seek for them.  Consequences are a part of God’s Plan for us.  If we, in any way, try to help people avoid consequences their behavior warrants, we are delaying the day when they will reach their bottom and begin to seek the healing balm that will restore them to happiness.
While, there are those who through teaching and admonition, will choose to change before painful consequences humble them, there are many who will not.  Thus it is important to teach and invite all to come unto Christ.  But, for those who reject such admonition, it is also important to be willing to “let go and let God.”
In my work with troubled teens I have often expressed the reality that addiction is a degenerative disease.  I explain that addiction leaves a person with only three choices: 
1.   You can get better, or
2.   You will become institutionalized, or
3.   You will become dead.
Those are an addict’s only options.
After number two, I always pointed out that lo and behold, here they were, in detention – institutionalized.
Teen agers are quite cynical at times.  Having little desire to change and knowing they’d one day get out of the institution that held them captive they acted unscathed by the death prediction.  Oh, they didn’t deny it.  All of them personally knew someone for whom death had been the premature outcome.  Their attitude was more of a resigned, “So, that’s that.”
I always came back with, “No that’s not all there is.  If this kills you, which it may; you’ll go to Hell.  But when you wake up there don’t be too discouraged because I’ll be there too and we’ll take up with the Twelve Steps there, right where we left off here.”  Whereupon, I always point out that Hell is God’s Alternative High School.  If we don’t get it right here, we go to a place where we have an alternative means of learning life’s lessons.  (See Chapter Two)
God’s plan is not going to be thwarted.  He is a successful parent; one who loves each and every one of his children.  Hope is not lost when the consequences seem too harsh.  We often remind people of this and while extending a heartfelt invitation to come and be partakers of the Heavenly Gift.[2]  “If you are not ready yet, be comforted in the knowledge that God will continue to prepare you so that you will, one day, be ready.”  Whether it is unfortunate that such preparation often requires affliction, or not; is just a matter of perspective.  I personally consider the affliction that drove me to humility, to be the greatest blessing of my life.
In his book, Odds Are, You’re Going to Be Exalted, Alonzo L. Gaskill reminds us:
“Even when we have the best of intents—the purest motives—we cannot discern others as God sees them….We are so prone to doubt, to doubt man’s intent and ability to succeed—and to doubt God’s divine plan for saving His children.  Certainly most of us do not see ourselves as doubting the Lord.  But, as it has been said, to despair is to turn one’s back on God—to doubt Him and His promises.  Thus, when we experience despair, fear, or worry, we are not exhibiting faith; we are manifesting, instead, our doubt.” (page 84)
Then, when we doubt God, we seek to take matters into our own hands.  We seek to control situations that are not ours to control and we wind up playing into Satan’s hands as we manipulate matters toward our own ends.





[1] Moses 1:39
[2] Ether 12:8

Chapter 13 - Whatever It Takes - Making Amends

In 2006 I read a headline for a book review of The Hook.  It read:
COVER- 'I harmed you': 21 years, 12 steps later, rape apology backfires
It was about that rather famous case of William Beebe and Liz Seccuro.  In college Beebe had raped Seccuro.  He had not been convicted.  20 years later, struggling with alcoholism Beebe, in a bid to make amends wrote Seccuro and asked for forgiveness.  She did not forgive him, but rather sent him to jail.  Liz remains bitter and angry and William, according to one report is moving on, having done what he could to make amends.
Now, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this case.  I have no intention of choosing up sides.  Seccuro has every right to refuse forgiveness.  Beebe was making an attempt to recover from Alcoholism and in doing his step work was responding to Step 8:  Make a list of people you have harmed.  And then Step 9:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  I’m not going to discuss whether or not his amends was advisable as Seccuro was bitter about the reopening of old wounds.  Nor am I going to criticize her response.
What I want to discuss here is the supposition that Beebe’s attempt at amends backfired.  If Beebe’s amends were sincere, with no intent to do harm; and if he was willing to do whatever it took to make those amends; and if in the end he finds healing from the guilt and damage he inflicted on himself, while harming her, it is all he can do and is enough.  If in the end, he finds the healing he needs, the process has not backfired, has not failed him, but has helped him move on.
Those who are working Steps 8 and 9 are counseled to let go of the outcome.  We who have done wrong and harmed another, all of us, need to be willing to do whatever is in our power to make restitution for the crimes we commit.  Of course there are things we cannot restore, like a person’s virtue and feeling of safety and well-being.  Such things as Beebe stole from Seccuro.  He must do what he can, but he has no control over her response.  One account I read of this incident indicated that Beebe knew, going in that incarceration might be an outcome.  Still, he was willing to do whatever it took to make amends.  He also offered to reimburse his victim for therapy costs she may have incurred.  The offer was greeted with accusations of bribery.  I can’t judge which it was.  But if he was sincere, it still didn’t matter what her response was, he was doing what he could.
This is an important story.  We all mistreat others, hopefully not as heinously as Beebe mistreated Seccuro.  We also all get mistreated.  The consequence, in either case exacts a heavy toll.  Only through being willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the problem can we find the healing we seek – even if that means prison.
Now, Seccuro is not responsible for what happened to her.  Even so, she has been deeply hurt by it.  She too, can personally benefit by seeking and giving forgiveness.  She didn’t create her problem or its consequences, but she must own it.  What Beebe did was for his own healing, not for hers.  It is she who must take the steps to do whatever is necessary to recover from the damage Beebe has done to her.
Now, one final and very important concept in this process; it is Jesus Christ who ultimately forgives and heals.  This is critical to Beebe as he has broken things he cannot fix.  It is also critical for Seccuro, who requires the healing touch of the master too.  Part of that healing for her, will require that she eventually find forgiveness for her assailant.  Jesus said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”  He doesn’t expect us to somehow conjure that up from with our own guts.  He offers that peace as we humbly accept His forgiveness for our own transgressions.  As a wise man once put it, “He who refuses to forgive, burns the bridge over which he too must cross.”
The making of amends and the offering of forgiveness go hand in hand.  You cannot have one without the other.  They are like the two blades of a pair of scissors, useful only in tandem.

Chapter 12 - Life Without Manipulation and Fear

So what does life without manipulation look like?  May I suggest you study the life of Christ?  More specifically, might we study His teachings as in the Sermon on the Mount? 
Remember, manipulation always has a selfish motive.  Jesus’ motives were never selfish.  He was motivated by love.  His entire life and very meaning of His death were motivated by love for His spiritual brothers and sisters.  Everything He taught said the same wonderful message.  There is no selfish motive in the Good Samaritan or servant who magnified his Talent.  There is no manipulation in healing the sick or raising the dead.  Often he invited those He blessed to “tell no man.”  There was no ulterior or insidious motive in rescuing the woman taken in adultery, nor in his invitation to her to go her “way and sin no more.”  There is no manipulation in turning the other cheek or going the second mile or loving your neighbor as yourself.  Finding your life is about manipulation and that is why Jesus invited us to lose our lives in the service of other.
If we will pattern our lives after that of Christ we will learn to avoid the harm and danger of manipulation.
I had been reading the Beatitudes one time when I was issued a challenge.  A Young Men President from a neighboring Stake challenged me to a contest to see who could get the best attendance at Scout Round Table each month.  I had been impressed with Jesus’ teachings and wanted to put them to the test.  I didn’t discuss my approach with my friend.  He just went his way and I went mine, or rather the Lord’s.
My friend and a member of his Stake Presidency who were both avid Scouters devised a plan to have competitive attendance.  Their method was to go to Round Table, roll in hand and, counting heads, determine who was not there.  Then they went into the lobby and phoned all of the absentees strongly encouraging them to be there.  I never listened to those phone conversations, nor did I hear what was said when these two brethren upped the ante by actually leaving the meeting and going to their homes to drag the “slackers” out.  So, I can only imagine the methods they used to be manipulative.  Guilt trips, scolding and shaming are distinct possibilities.
Consulting the Lord’s teachings I set upon another plan.  I decided to send individual invitations to each man who might benefit from the meeting.  I explained the purpose of the meeting and what they might gain by attending.  Then I went to the meeting, participated and helped to see that it was a beneficial use of the participants’ time.  I too, took roll to see who had not attended, but my purpose was different.  I wanted to gather handouts and take notes for each absent brother so I could convey the information that he had missed to him personally.  I took a day or two to transcribe my notes and personalize a packet for each missing brother.  Then, I personally took each brother his packet.  I would ring the door bell and when answered say something like, “We had a wonderful Round Table the other night.  I was sorry you couldn’t make it and was sure you’d want to know what you missed.  I’ve prepared this little folder full of material from the meeting that I think you’ll find beneficial in your program.”
I then thanked the brother for his wonderful service to the young men in his charge and praised him for his valiant efforts and left.
My friends from the other Stake really kicked my tail for the first couple of months.  They also got wind of my method and scoffed; saying that I was going to turn my brethren in to little dependent pansies who would learn to take advantage of their patsy of a leader, for everything, while never learning to stand on their own two feet.
How surprised we all were when my, non-manipulated group began to turn up in far greater numbers than theirs.  Their method began to fail because those brethren soon learned to hide from the sheep dogs who were attempting to drive them to the meeting.  They wouldn’t answer their phones and made it a point to be away from the house on that particular night each month.  Their roundup to Roundtable began to be a disaster.
In the meantime, my brethren felt safe in coming.  They weren’t under any kind of threat, or burdened by any measure of guilt.  The packets proved useful and the invitations to attend in person began to make sense.  Those brethren knew they were loved and appreciated for their service in a difficult job and came to realize that I and those at Round Table were only trying to make their task easier to perform.  They became willing to follow their shepherd.
I must admit that this was just an experiment at first.  I was not at all certain that it would work.  I will also admit that being a neutral observer was difficult, but I was determined not to taint the results by resorting to my old manipulative methods.  No one was more surprised than I to see the miraculous results that came of this experiment.  I am happy to report that I became a whole hearted convert in the process and will ever be grateful for the blessing of having tried to pattern my behavior after that of the Master.  I can only wonder how much better I might have done if I had believed in the beginning instead of, in a measure, faking it.  Thankfully, by the end of the process, I didn’t have to fake it any more.
This and myriad other opportunities to pattern my life after the Savior have taught me, line upon line and precept upon precept, to remove manipulation from my life.  I don’t need the credit for anyone’s praiseworthy deeds, not even my own.  I have learned to give the glory to God, for truly it is He who permits, empowers and guides my worthy efforts.
Now, let me offer a few observations about frustration.  Have you noticed the more entrenched the Control Freak, the more frustrated he is?  For him life is his way or the highway.  Sound familiar?  Sounds just like the original Control Freak to me.  Don’t forget Satan had his choice just like everyone else and in the end he chose the highway.  He’s been ranting and raving about it ever since.  Trying to take control always leads to frustration.  Confound it anyway! 
What a blessing I have found frustration to be.  For me it is a red flag.  Every time I get frustrated it’s a sure fire signal that I’m attempting again to take control.  Usually a cursory look around will reveal who I’m trying to manipulate this time.  The more sensitive I have become to this little signal, the less carnage I have caused.
Let me tell you how I made this most revealing discovery about myself.  I had been in recovery from my addiction for about 18 months.  All of a sudden one day, without any conscious thought, I found myself in the middle of full blown binge.  I woke up with the realization like it was a bad dream, only it wasn’t.  I couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d been broadsided by a truck while going through a green light at a remote intersection!  I was devastated.  I had gone so long without using and had, for the most part, been remarkably free of temptation as well.  It had been so wonderful to be free!
I crawled back to the Lord, begged forgiveness, expressed my dismay and confusion and began working the 12 Steps again.  When I got to step four I worked really hard at identifying what weakness had taken me back down.  After weeks of soul searching and self examination I made a remarkable discovery.  I had not fallen off the wagon on the day that I used again.  I fell off three weeks earlier when I had reclaimed control of my life from the God I had given it to.
On that earlier day, a daughter had made a decision of serious and very negative and disappointing consequences.  I immediately reacted with anger, frustration and disappointment.  Not because of her, but because of how her decision was going to affect me and my reputation and my ego.  I went right out and began decorating for the pity party I would eventually hold three weeks later.
I am mortified that I never once considered what she was going through, what pain had caused her rash decision, what anguish might be racking her soul.  No, I was too caught up in her defiance of my wishes, and how it was all going to affect me.  I had not realized it then, but had spent the entire three weeks, decorating, arranging caterers, venues and entertainment for the pity party that somehow turned out to be a surprise party for the planner.
Nobody in recovery likes a relapse.  But everyone who relapses and learns from it will express appreciation for the lessons learned.  So it is with me.  I learned loud, clear and indelibly that frustration is the first sign of coming destruction and that the only way to stop the train is to stop, turn around, face the Lord and relinquish the control I was trying to usurp.  Relinquish it to Him, no one else, just He who can be fully entrusted with it.
Once I sobered up and surrendered my will to the Lord, again; I realized that I had not even considered my daughter or her pain.  The manifest frustration followed by manipulative intervention and then the subsequent neglect had further alienated her.  She was difficult to reach.  She had closed the shutters and barred the doors to her heart for fear of further hurt, this time at my hands.  I had to stop being in control.  I had to stop manipulating.  I began by outlining my error and begging for forgiveness for my selfishness.  My willingness to be candid and vulnerable resulted in a tongue lashing, a release of a lot of pent up anger and pain.  I took it.  I deserved it.
Next I asked, like Dr. Lund, “What on earth has hurt you so badly that you would choose to act this way?  When she told me, my heart burst with sorrow and compassion.  She had indeed been terribly hurt by mean and manipulative friends whose only purpose was to satisfy personal egos and curiosity.  Add to that the hurt caused by a self-centered and uncaring father and you have a formula for disaster.  I plead for forgiveness for not being there for her in her time of need.  Not only had her friends rejected her, but her father had abandoned her.
It has taken us a long long time to treat and heal those deep infected wounds.
What a priceless lesson.  What a horrible cost.
This chapter is about life without manipulation and fear.  I confessed this most shameful story to teach one point.  Let frustration be your red flag.  Pray that Father will make you sensitive and aware of it at its first emergence.  There is only one explanation for frustration – manipulation.  That little red flag should have a message printed in bold letters across the crimson, “You are a Selfish Manipulator – Quit it!”  At least that’s what mine says.
Do you suppose the folks who mourned the loss of a brick on the Tower of Babel were frustrated?  Do you suppose when the ovens of Auschwitz couldn’t keep up with the trains, Hitler got frustrated?  Do you suppose that when my wife expressed no desire to go on a mission, I got frustrated?  What about when the living room floor is covered with Legos?  Do you get frustrated?  Why?  Are you thinking about them?  Or are you thinking about you? 
I took the Scouts to Summer Camp one year.  To motivate them a acquired pretty wonderful prizes they might win.  Each time I caught a Scout doing something good or well I would give him a colorful polished stone.  I put the prizes on display and told them that the one with the most stones at the end of the week would get his choice of the prizes.  There were knives, binoculars, compasses, stuff like that.  They were motivated.  I thought I was encouraging them, motivating them.  At the end of the week a conflict arose between two groups of the boys.  Tempers flared and when the time came for the counting of stones and the awarding of prizes, no one wanted to participate.  Their anger was still seething.  One boy had even run off into the dark woods to be away and alone.  Of course I had to go after him.  I stumbled around the forest for a half hour realizing that I’d only find him if he wanted to be found.  I sat down on a log frustrated.  All my plans, hopes, dreams for this activity were heading down the drain.  I was frustrated.  After some contemplative time, I decided to pray.  First I prayed for the young man, that he wouldn’t be lost and would respond to my calls.  Then I prayed for my plan that it would come to fruition.  Then I sat a while and listened.  What I heard, in my heart, surprised me.  There in the woods, I learned that my motivation for the stones and prizes had been a selfish one.  I wanted cooperation.  I wanted success and the resulting praise.  I wanted to be the coolest Scoutmaster on the mountain.
Somehow, through all the selfishness the Lord reached me and informed me that He had a better plan and that from what appeared to me to be disaster, He was going to create a masterpiece.  I felt impressed to go to the picnic table in camp and just sit there.  I did.  Eventually, someone approached and asked if I weren’t going to bed. 
“No,” I said.
“Why not?  It’s late,” the scout informed me.
“It is,” I said, “But I have a job to do and I’m going to stay here until it is done.”
The boy left.  I could hear murmuring in the tents.  Eventually, the two groups wandered reluctantly to the table and joined me in silence.  Two boys were still missing.  We waited.  Finally, out of the darkness they emerged and joined.  Sullen looks remained on most of the faces.
I still had a bunch of stones left in a box.  I informed the boys that I had gone about the program all wrong and that I wanted their stones back.  They handed them in without complaint.  I handed the box to the eldest boy, the one who’d left camp.  The one who’d bossed everyone around all week.  The one who’d precipitated the rebellion.  I asked him to distribute the stones as he saw fit.  He declined.  I passed them to the next boy and he accepted the assignment.  I told him that there was only one stipulation.  He couldn’t give a stone without a positive and bonafide reason, which he must express to the group.   He took off without flinching and gave stones to every boy in the group.  Then to my surprise that young man offered the same opportunity to the next boy.  Pretty soon they’d complimented one another around the circle giving love and support freely to one another.  Before long, tears began to be shed.  The Spirit was felt in abundance.  One of the interesting things was that toward the end of the process, boys began to bear their testimonies to one another of the feelings this little exercise was causing in their hearts.  To my surprise, the eldest and to some degree, most obnoxious, wound up with far and away the most stones.  This little phenomenon changed the way he felt about his peers for years to come.
I shudder to think that I might have, in my selfish frustration, forced the situation and destroyed any chance that this little miracle could have taken place.  While I was certainly selfish in my desires, I think it is wonderful that my shiny stones didn’t do the trick until the Lord stretched forth His finger and made them glow in the hearts of some of his worthy sons.  This can only be done if we will acknowledge our own weakness, anticipate the Lord’s divine assistance and then get out of the way.  We can only do that if we are thinking of others and not of ourselves.  My original method was one of manipulation.  God’s method was one of freedom, responsibility, love and selflessness.  What a difference can be found in the result.

Chapter 11 - Manipulating Ourselves

We have already established that the primary response to a manipulator is to lie.  It follows then that if we lie to ourselves we are manipulating ourselves.  We can and are quite adept at self deceit.  Why do we do this?  Why do we attempt to justify the choices we are making?  Why do we, sometimes quite successfully, convince ourselves that right is wrong and wrong is right?
In my own case, I loved to use the justice scale to justify misbehavior and satisfy a guilty conscience.  I had myself persuaded that if my good deeds out-weighed my bad deeds that the scales would be tipped in my favor.  There were plenty of people around me we were more than willing to help me entrench that lie.  The truth is, “no unclean thing can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The lie I told myself was unproductive and dangerous as any I have ever heard.  I went along, quite merrily under the umbrella of that lie.
For a time I was Stake Mission President in my Stake.  I was determined to be successful in my calling.  I needed the reassurance that I had done well.  I needed the accolades that would accompany success such as I enjoyed.  I was, at the same time actively participating in my addiction.  Occasionally, I felt guilt sufficient to bring me to the Bishop or Stake President.  I would confess and then cite my merits in my calling as evidence that I was turning over a new leaf.  It was an easy sell.
This brings me to the second lie I told myself, which led to a lie that I told others.  I decided it was sufficient to confess to my Priesthood Leaders in generalities.  I justified leaving out much of the detail.  I didn’t want to admit some of my misbehavior to myself, let alone to my Bishop.  Addiction is like that.  And the first remedy to addiction is honesty.  I couldn’t even honestly admit that I was powerless over my addiction and that I had forfeited my agency with regard to my behavior.  I lied to myself when I told myself that I would quit someday, later.  In my heart of hearts I knew I was utterly unable to quit. 
I lied to myself when I told myself that the only person I was hurting was me.  It was an easy lie to pass off on me because I was so focused on myself that I was completely unaware of the harm I was causing those around me.
Every effort I made to quit was done by manipulation.  I would attempt elaborate means to avoid using.  I would force myself to be in good company.  I would destroy my stash so I couldn’t get what I needed.  I would ride herd on myself and employ others by various means to chaperon me as well.  I would commit myself to busy work as a distraction.  There were times when I had elaborate charts I had to fill out incessantly in an effort to trick myself into righteous behavior.  I would put on a righteous image and hold myself up as a good example so that I might be forced to live up to the expectations I had helped others have of me.  It was all lies and deceit and it didn’t work.
Every effort I made to use (abuse) was also manipulation.  I would tell myself that I could use after I had done my Home Teaching; trading good for bad, so to speak.  I would allow myself harmless indulgences so I could ease myself closer to the edge of all out abandonment.  I would select good things to do that were proximate to the bad ones, so I could peek over the fence if you will.
I often ran away from sin, but I always left a forwarding address.  It was always a lie and it was continual hell.  Well did Lehi speak when he said, “Wo unto the liar for he shall be thrust down to hell.”[1]  It isn’t wo unto the liar for he is entering the road to hell, or wo unto the liar for he might not get his temple recommend.  The term thrust has a sense of immediacy and forceful certainty; and so it is.  The lie, whether expressed to another or to one’s self brings immediate separation from God.  It also perpetuates the pain and suffering we bring upon ourselves by our dishonesty.  The lie is the vehicle by which we arrive most immediately in hell.  Hell is not a place.  It is a state of being.  If you think you can lie and avoid the miserable and captivating consequences; you are telling yourself the biggest lie of all.
Why do we manipulate ourselves?  Could it be that we don’t know any other way?  We are so commonly manipulated that we naturally assume that since the only way others can get us to perform is by manipulation; it must be the means by which we must get ourselves to perform.  We also assume that God too, is a manipulator which is the most heinously lie we could ever presume.
The notion of self manipulation rather implies the duality of our nature.  The natural man is an enemy to God.  The natural man trust’s Satan.  Satan manipulates.  This duality is wonderfully expressed in the Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.  I’m not a literary scholar.  I have no idea what Stevenson was trying to convey in his work.  What I do know, is that when I read his story, I related very much to Dr. Jekyl’s predicament.  I was in the same situation, though not chemically induced.  There were two opposing components to my personality.  And each one was very busy manipulating the other.  This inner conflict was devastating.  I acted like two different people.  For some time I actually wondered if I weren’t schizophrenic! 
I dealt with this dualism the best I could for too many years.  It was the chief component of the insanity that is addiction.  Then one day I heard a story.  You have probably heard it too in one or another if its many manifestations.  I’ve since encountered so many versions that I have no idea who to credit for its brilliance and for the blessing it has been in my life.  Here is a sweet and simple version that concisely makes the point:

A Cherokee Legend

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Truer words were never spoken.  I learned to feed the good wolf within me and to starve the bad one.  After a while, the fighting ceased.  The bad wolf, too weak to fight, has, for the most part slinked off to some far corner of my personality to hide.  Subtly, Satan tries to get me to slip a scrap of food to him here and there and I need to be very careful to give good and regular nutrition to the good wolf, but it sure beats feeding them both and dealing with the constant conflict, the constant manipulation.
The other day, friend and author Louise Penny wrote of a mourning friend (also Louise) in her blog:
Spoke to Louise last night and again this morning. She's very funny. Said that for the past year, when Jacques’ health took a nose-dive, she got used to doing various things...a routine. That grew more and more exhausting. Til at the end she said she'd get out of bed, drag herself down the hall murmuring to herself, 'Time to make the doughnuts. Time to make the doughnuts.'

A reference to an old TV commercial about a doughnut maker who got up at the crack of dawn and like a zombie went about his work. 'Time to make the doughnuts.'

Everyday, for weeks and months, that was how she felt, and that was what she mumbled to herself.

Until yesterday. She said one of the hardest things was not going to the hospital. She actually drove by it...slowing down. But didn't stop. 

Mostly, though, she's decided to not run away from the pain in frantic activity. Or even in television.  But to sit quietly, and feel it completely. And then, one day, to feel it ease. She knows the only way to really let something go is to own it first. And she has the courage to do that. At least for today.
Louise has made a mature, healthy choice to refrain from manipulating herself by running or distracting herself from her pain.  Addicts manipulate themselves all the time for that very reason.  The use of drugs, alcohol, food, porn or whatever, is the worst form of manipulation, by which we lie to ourselves and avoid, rather than deal with the vicissitudes of life.  Well did Louise Penny observe that I must honestly own a problem before I can let it go.





[1] 2 Nephi 9:38