There was once a young boy working on his father’s farm. The previous occupants of valley had left various odds and ends: mallets, nails, and occasionally the iron wedges used to fell trees. On this particular day, the boy came upon a wedge. Seeing as it was getting dark and he couldn’t be late for supper, he placed it in the crook of a young walnut tree with every intention of coming back for it later.
But he never did. As the boy grew in stature, so did the tree, holding the wedge tighter and tighter until it was enveloped completely.
Then came a winter storm. The boy had reached well into manhood now, had married and taken over the farm, and there was no trace of the long forgotten wedge, as it was nestled deep within the heart of the tree.
The icy storm laid weight upon telephone poles, pulling their flimsy wires to the ground. A full grown walnut tree should have easily been able to bear the force of the storm — but this one cracked and split on that icy night, until nothing but splinters of wood remained.
The wedge that had been hidden beneath the bark for years created a weak spot for the tree where the fibers could not connect, and eventually led to devastation.
President Thomas S. Monson told Samuel T. Whitman’s parable of the hidden wedge in April of 2002.
“My dear brothers and sisters”, President Monson stated, “there are hidden wedges in the lives of many whom we know—yes, perhaps in our own families.”
In our lives there exist spiritual wedges, that much like the iron wedge in the story, sit between us and our own eternal progression and can eventually lead to disaster. Here are some potential wedges.
You Place more Importance on the Physical than the Spiritual
There’s an immediacy in the physical world that always appeals to the innate impatience of the natural man. With eternity taking sweet time to make itself known, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day buzzing of the here and now. Having your priorities misaligned can and will impinge on your faith. Subscribing to worldliness may lead you to make important decisions without seeking the guidance of the Lord, and eventually knock you out of harmony with his commandments.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
1 John 2:15-17
Keeping an eternal perspective in a temporal world is no small feat. Laman and Lemuel saw angels — multiple times — and were still hung up on not getting to be in charge and having to abandon their house and precious possessions. Nobody is judging you if you struggle with this… living in the world but not of the world. But being able to take a step back and put things in eternal perspective eases the woes of temporal living when they arise.
If you find your perspective overrun by the cares of the world, turn to charity. It’s the fastest way to connect with heaven.
Freedom was not Part of your Upbringing
You never chose to go to church. You never chose to keep the commandments. It was expected of you — and whether it was fear of punishment or fear of disappointing your caretakers, you continued to follow.
The Church places a huge emphasis on agency; it was our choice to come down here, get a body, and take part in this plan in the first place. Determining at what age children can be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to go to church is difficult, and may be different for every child (and every parent). But there’s something to be gained by going to church on your own accord, free from fear or coercion.
Making the the choice to come to church and gain your own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ puts oil in your lamp, drop by drop. The fact is you can’t lean on your parents’ testimonies, no matter how strong — and parents, this becomes apparent as soon as a child leaves home. When they make the decision to go to church (or not) themselves. If they’ve been made to go to church their whole life, then it might be tempting to stop when they lack their parents’ guiding hand.
In the June 2010 Ensign article “Agency Is Essential to Our Eternal Progress” it says, “Our Heavenly Father has given us agency. This ability to choose for ourselves is an essential part of the plan of salvation.”
You Feel Overwhelmed by the Concept of Eternity
As a Latter-day Saint, I’m sure you’ve noticed the emphasis that is placed on forever. We hear it sung by little children, Families can be together forever; we’re advised to choose our spouses carefully because that union is eternal. Forever is around every avenue and behind every corner in LDS culture, and for some, that’s just too much.
It isn’t that you don’t love your family, or that you don’t want to be with your spouse for time and eternity. Maybe your children are whining, or you’re fighting with your spouse, or the sheer mass of infinity is seeping into your mind and now you’re breaking into cold sweats.
Calm down. It’s okay. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said it beautifully in a 2011 BYU Fireside.
“It is one day at a time that we raise and nurture our families. It is one day at a time that we overcome imperfections. We endure in faith to the end one day at a time.”
Live today; maintain an eternal perspective — just don’t think too hard about what eternal means.
Your Sense of Self is Based on the Opinion of Others
Validation comes in the form of Instagram hearts and Snapchat views. You don’t know if a song is “cool” unless someone tells you so. You’ve downgraded your old favorite pair of sneakers to kick-around shoes because someone once told you they were hideous. You care enough about what others think to let it govern your everyday choices.
Allowing yourself to be led by man can keep you from being open to the guidance of the Lord. The world around us is constantly changing; ideas about what is and is not acceptable shift throughout the years. Trying to define yourself using the vacillating opinions of the world as your focal point can mean blurred lines and instability.
A serious internal struggle can arise when we judge ourselves by the world’s standards and the Lord’s standards at the same time. “I want to be the perfect Mormon mom, but I want to look fabulous, too. I want to be faithful, but I want to bake Pinterest-perfect holiday cookies, AND get my master’s degree.” “I want to be a faithful priesthood holder, but I want to spend Saturdays at the gym and Sundays watching football.” In the end, one set of standards loses hold on us.
Also, if we judge ourselves by the appearance of others, we may shrink and lose confidence. Many a Relief Society sister fails to attend church because she feels her weak Many a Relief Society sister fails to attend church because she feels her weak testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be noticed, or because her family isn’t perfect. Many a priesthood holder falls away, if he feels like he is “unique” or “different” than “other Mormons.”
In October 2015 General Conference, Elder Richard J. Maynes commented, “The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
You Find it Difficult to Forgive
Whether it’s an injury to pride, a disappointment of hopes and dreams, or the loss of something precious to us, picking up and moving on seems impossible. As human beings, we have the natural predisposition to assign blame — we want to hold someone responsible for faulting us. When we continue to hold enmity toward our fellow man in our hearts, and allow it to determine our actions, we’re only hurting ourselves.
In the October 2006 General Conference, David A. Bednar recounted his many experiences dealing with members who went inactive because they felt they had been wronged. Whether it was lack of inclusion, an unnecessary comment from another member, or unwanted counsel from a Church leader, Elder Bednar noted the recurring precursor, “I was offended by….”
He offered them the following wisdom:
Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.
And if that’s not reason enough to begin your own path to forgiveness, maybe some insight into the psychology of forgiveness will persuade you.
You’ve Never had to Check your Ego
We don’t refer to the series of events that lead countless faithful, humble civilizations and individuals into wickedness as the “Pride Cycle” for nothing.
In his April 1989 General Conference address, President Benson labeled pride as the gateway sin, calling it “the universal sin, the great vice.” Pride, as President Benson describes it, is an enmity in our hearts; it drives us against the teachings of the Lord and against the friendship of our fellowmen.
With the world today placing such a profound emphasis on individuality and self-sufficiency, there’s an increased ease of slipping into patterns of pride. Recognizing a need for humility is impossible if you don’t realize the extent of your own pride. Symptoms you might be suffering from a prideful spirit include:
- Difficulty accepting criticism or other’s advice
- Feelings of superiority/pitying peers
- Finding faults with others or with the Church
- Inability to handle figures of authority
In his April 2001 General Conference talk, Marlin K. Jensen described the child as the perfect archetype for humility. Jensen instructed Latter-day Saints striving to develop a humble spirit to become as a child — a gradual process that requires the Holy Ghost and reliance on Christ’s atonement as described in Mosiah 3:19:
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 enticings 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, 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.
You Experience Overwhelming Feelings of Guilt and Unworthiness for Seemingly Small Things
Was taking two pieces of bread for sacrament a sin? Should I repent? How about that swig of Coke I had when I was 9? I swore, am I going to hell? Why is the bishop being so light on me?
Obviously this is an exaggeration, but if you find that you’re constantly beating yourself up for not adhering to the strictest of religious guidelines, you might have a problem.
“Scrupulosity” describes extreme religious or moral fixations. One Idaho man suffering from scrupulosity began calling everyone he felt he had ever wronged, sending checks in the mail in hopes of making things right. He found himself up at night, racked with guilt for past actions and obsessing about absolute honesty in all his future dealings. Eventually, he got to the point where he felt his only option was to leave the Church.
Scrupulosity thrives within religious communities where moral standards and codes of conduct are valued above all else. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we place particular emphasis on living our faith and maintaining our values. We’re “trying to be like Jesus” — in other words, striving for perfection. That can put a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Michelle Medeiros, Ph.D , of Palo Alto University, studied the effect of this on Latter-day Saints in 2015, comparing levels of scrupulosity to levels of religiosity. Within Mormonism, those with higher levels of scrupulosity exhibited lower levels of religiosity and vice versa. They found that those who viewed God as more loving were less likely to show scrupulous tendencies.
While no one is assuming that correlation equals causation, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by guilt, remembering God’s infinite love for his children and gaining a complete understanding of the atonement couldn’t hurt. That being said, if you experience severe scrupulous tendencies, please contact a mental health professional.
You See Things in Black and White
There is no gray area. Ambiguity? You can’t handle it. Unfortunately, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a history that might take more than a spoonful of sugar to swallow. Polygamy, seer stones, and race and the priesthood can all be significant hindrances to someone trying to gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For some, compartmentalizing the things they don’t understand and filing them away in a “will-determine-at-later-date” folder in their brain is easy. But, for those with a low tolerance for ambiguity, this does not suffice. You might find yourself stressing over details, questioning the foundation on which you built your faith, and tumbling down a rabbit hole of doubt and unbelief.
I would never lie and say learning to live with uncertainty is easy, because it’s not — but there are some things beyond our current capacity to comprehend. This doesn’t mean you will never understand them, or you’re not allowed to research them extensively. If gathering all the information you can on a topic eases your mind, go for it — just be sure the information is coming from a reliable source. The Church’s recent push for historical transparency is meant to encourage members to become acquainted with all of Church History — yes, even the controversial parts.
Be sure to ask any questions you have, don’t allow them to fester into doubts. A question asked with real intent can only strengthen your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Study it out in the scriptures, ask your Bishop, and pray for understanding. When you feel yourself spiraling into unbelief due to incongruities, lean on doctrinal certainties.
You Never Sought out a Testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Place
Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.
3 nephi 27:29
No doubt, as a member of the Church you’ve heard this scripture countless times. Maybe your Sunday school instructor read it to the class and washed it down with DIY — see if the scriptures are true. And maybe you prayed, maybe you forgot, maybe you received strong personal revelation that this is the true church.
Gaining a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ begins with a drop of faith that grows with time and action. If you feel like you’ve been living on borrowed light, don’t hesitate to ask for yourself. Questions act as a catalyst for faith if treated thoughtfully and without haste.
Heavenly Father knows we’re a package deal; He’s well aware of the trials we face and inner demons we battle. Henry B. Eyring once stated, “We need strength beyond ourselves to keep the commandments in whatever circumstance life brings to us.” The difficulty of our trials is directly proportional to our ability to deal with them. We’re offered the cleansing and enabling power of the atonement to help lift us when our burdens feel too great to bear.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
So if you do find yourself relating to one (or more) of these descriptions, hope is not lost. Know that all of the above are experienced at some time or another by most of us. Self-examination, meditation and prayer can help all of us course-correct. Knowing yourself and your particular weakness can help you seek strength in the right ways and right places.
Have you overcome any of these tendencies yourself? How did you do it? How have you gained your personal testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Share in the comments below.