Eternity with Paradox

I acquired and finished Stephenie Meyer's newest novel, Eclipse. President Faust passed away a few days ago. I didn't go to church yesterday because I was in Annapolis with a good percentage of my extended family.

What do these three topics have in common? A single word that never meant much to me until I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Eternity.

We hear about Eternity on a regular basis in our meetings (keeping an eternal perspective, marriage as an eternal covenant, the temple being our bridge into the eternities), but I wonder if the term becomes any more meaningful from the emphasis we place on it. Even when I'm making statements related to my religion, I can't help but wonder if using the word "forever" means anything coming from me. Teenagers say "forever" about even the most trivial things. Can I help wondering if I'm any different?

But I've had a few opportunities to "be still," as our Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley advises, and to contemplate the layers of meaning that make up the onion of Eternity.

I hated romance novels until I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. But her characters are beyond captivating, and her stories reflect gospel principles in ways that are tasteful and appealing to both LDS and non-LDS audiences. When I finish her books, I leave them with a renewed sense of what love is really about. Stephenie made a statement in an interview on Amazon.com that Twilight is about finding true love, New Moon is about losing true love, and Eclipse is about choosing true love.


Eclipse reminded me that Eternity isn't just a goal to be reached at the end of this life. Eternity was in full swing before I got here. By actively keeping my world spinning by investing my energy into self improvement, I make choices that are always shaping and changing my world. As Meyer brought her book to a close, she illustrated an important point to me that I had never considered before. The main character, Bella, must choose whether or not she will pursue true love, and it comes with a very high cost. She would have to leave every aspect of her life behind her, including her family and friends. She would never have a normal, American Dream kind of life with the white picket fence, 2 1/2 kids, and a dog. She would have to sacrifice more than she could comprehend or even appreciate, opportunities that she would never know about, all because of one choice. But her choice has to be made, and she has to do make it for herself.

I imagine that Meyer's non-member readers may look at that and think, "How discomforting..." but that's what we, as Latter-day Saints, have to consider with everything we do. Our whole way of life is based upon the concept of Eternity, and making decisions that are permanent even in death. Our words, our deeds, our spouses, our families require a level of responsibility that cannot be taken lightly because they are literally FOREVER.

When I think about my life with this perspective, I cannot help but have an increased sense of reverence about why I'm here, what my life's mission is, and getting things right the first time. But at the same time, I worry all the time about making decisions that I could live with forever if I had to. I doubt I'll ever do things perfectly, but I've made an important distinction as a recovering perfectionist: there's a difference between doing something right and doing it perfectly. And I find that the more I understand that distinction, the better off I am inside.

President James E. Faust had his own special place in my heart, even if I didn't have the experience with him that, clearly, others on the Bloggernacle have had. I remember learning more about forgiveness from his General Conference talk than I ever learned on my own. Forgiveness is something that I struggle with when it really matters, and I'm glad I have his talk to help me through it. Maybe with this small piece of his legacy, I can become a better person, and come a little closer to the kind of Eternity I'd like to see for myself and my family.

Having leaders like President Faust with such wise counsel reminds me that agency is not supposed to be a daunting curse; it's a gift that, if we could not handle the accompanying responsibility, we would not possess such power. If we follow the instructions and guidance from our leaders, learning all the time to be more virtuous, then eternal glory will not seem so far beyond our reach.

I admit openly that I'm a recovering perfectionist. It's more than just wanting things done right the first time; it's a level of anxiety that has been unhealthy for me at times, but has been a cross I bear (I'm sure) for a purpose. But what if our crosses are too heavy? What if we fail in a hard moment? Even though (and I even dare say, because) I didn't go to Church yesterday, my testimony of family history work was strengthened.

I know I left my family gathering with AT LEAST 50 new names to add to our family tree, not to mention that my normally chaotic family was together in the same room, being civilized, and helping me to do the work that their loved ones have been waiting so long for someone to do. I remember once upon a time, I didn't want to do my family history because of how difficult it seemed. But I've been blessed with the help I prayed for, and the work is being done. And just watching this unity in my family, this miracle unfolding before me, I return to a realization that family history work always seems to bring with it. Our Father in Heaven believes in second chances because He loves us, and He wants to bless us with eternal life. The tricky part is deserving it.

But what is deserving? I agree that obedience is important, but I learned a long time ago that choosing The Other Option doesn't have to mean Choosing the Wrong. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I broke a commandment by not going to Church and not taking the Sacrament.

But by choosing to "eat crabs" (they eat them, I watch) with my family, I further fulfilled a mission that was given to me in my patriarchal blessing, which serves my family on both sides of the veil.

Does my choice have consequences? Sure! I find it much harder to go throughout my week when I haven't taken the Sacrament on Sunday.

But is that what you have to be willing AND able to do sometimes? Absolutely! May not sound right when you say it like that, but the point of this life isn't to make sense. If that were the case, brussell sprouts and Liberace would not exist.

The point of this life is to learn about Eternity, and to be able to live our lives in a way that reflects our acceptance of what is expected of us.

And whether that point reaches you through a Young Adult romance novel, the First Presidency, or even from playing hooky from Church, is entirely up to you.

Comments

  1. Great post! I especially liked the thought "being right and being perfect are two completely different things." We had an interesting discussion in Elder's quorum this Sunday about some stuff that's connected with some of your thoughts. We talked about faith and the difference between faith and blind obedience. It was really interesting because I realized that obedience for the sake of obedience really is contrary to the gospel: obedience is the first law of heaven (it's not just a saying, it's actually derived from the temple), but we obey because of our faith in Jesus Christ, not just for the sake of the obedience itself. I had a roommate who didn't get that, and as a result, his mission was one of the most miserable times of his life. But if you can get that, you can do stuff like shuck corn on the sabbath (like Jesus did), not freak out about it, and not offend the spirit either. That's really awesome what you're doing with your family history! God bless!

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  2. I wonder if there is more to eternity than just “forever”. Jesus certainly preached a Kingdom of God that was bigger than just getting to heaven when we die because he announced that “the Kingdom of heaven is here.” I agree with you that everything we do on earth will have lasting implications in the forever, but lately I have been more fascinated with how God brought eternity to us here where we are; I am growing more and more enamored with the truly good news of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.

    Thanks again for a great post reminding us that our lives have an eternal element that can not be ignored.

    Peace,

    James

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  3. "Lately I have been more fascinated with how God brought eternity to us here where we are"

    James: Not to condescend anyone else's beliefs, but one of the "advantages" (sorry, can't find a better word) I've found from being Mormon is learning about the pre-existence, which I'd like to share with you. I must admit, I'm not as educated on the subject as I'd like to be, so I could be missing some technical details here. I'll do the best I can though.

    The general idea is that we believe that we are all literally spirit children of our Heavenly Father and Mother. We believe that we lived with Them in Heaven before we came to Earth. But then there was a war over the creation of Earth. At the time, Lucifer attempted to usurp God's power by suggesting that he (Lucifer) be in control of the Earth, forcing all men to serve Heavenly Father, and he (Lucifer) would recieve all of the glory for it. But then Christ interjected, saying that humanity should be able to have agency, and choose who they would serve. Christ volunteered to atone for the sins we would committ while on the Earth, and glory should be with Heavenly Father forever. The schism was catastrophic. We were all presented with the choice to come to Earth, but many of God's children decided to follow Satan instead, and they never came here.

    But for those of us who ARE here, we believe that this life is a time to learn of Our Father's plan for us, and to strengthen ourselves spiritually for the fight that is surely still going on.

    My intention with sharing this with you, of course, isn't to proselyte my ideas against yours; simply to share beliefs and possibilities. If you'd like, you can read about the pre-existence yourself, if for no other reason than to know more about the Mormons. The pre-existence is in the Pearl of Great Price, in Abraham. A link to it is at scriptures.lds.org. If you do decide to read it, and you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them as best I can.

    Peace be with you brother, and thanks for listening! May your quest for Christ be fruitful and blessed!

    ~Paradox

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  4. Paradox, You will see this more fully when you go to the temple, but I love something Richard L. Bushman said. To paraphrase, one of the least understood aspects of Joseph Smith's teachings is how he conceptualized the cosmos and our place in it. Brother Bushman said that one of the most fascinating aspects of Mormonism is that someone can be knee-deep in dirt and muck on a farm in the morning, then that same person can be contemplating and envisioning the universe in the temple that evening.

    I have a good friend who was an assistant minister when he joined the Church. I won't share the miraculous path of his conversion, but he shared the following with me as he left the temple for the first time. It is one of the new, small temples, and he said, "It feels SO much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It's like all of eternity opened up before me - and I felt connected to the universe in a way that I've never experienced before."

    Just thought I'd share that with you.

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  5. Thanks Paradox,

    I don’t take your sharing this with me as trying to proselytize me; I appreciate your sharing with me your beliefs for the sake of sharing and hope that as I continue to share my beliefs and story you don’t take it as trying to proselytize you either. I like this free exchange of story, and beliefs, and I think it is beneficial for us both on our respective journeys.

    I can see how the concept of preexistence has advantages to helping us see our place in eternity. I also find it interesting that according to Mormonism it seems that everyone on earth already chose to follow Christ because they chose to be here; otherwise they would have followed Lucifer and never would have come. I am sure there is a lot more to it than that, but it seems that under your belief system I would be included as one of those who chose to follow the way of the Father by coming to earth. This seems like a very accepting belief system in which you are able to embrace all humanity as your brothers and sisters.

    My original comment does speak to a very different perspective regarding the person of Christ and our place as humanity with the Father. I am sure you are probably more failure with other Christian belief systems than I am with Mormonism, but I would love to share my perspective which I think carries a generous orthodoxy about Christian beliefs.

    I believe all humanity is created by God along with this world and universe that we live in. To clarify what may seem to be a unique view for a Christian; I believe that the creation account and the story of Adam and Eve are told in symbolic language rather than a literal history. I still think the story is divinely inspired truth that lets us know that God desires to have a loving relationship with his creation and his creation to have loving relationships with one another. We can see from the story in Genesis and from our own lives today that sin damages and breaks relationships with God and one another.

    It is hard enough to overcome broken relationships with one another; it is a whole other thing to try to overcome any barrier that might separate us from God. But, it is God who makes the steps toward knowing us that we can not make toward him. The Jews always believed in a God that desired to be present with his people and made promises to be such. I believe that Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of that promise, that he literally is God with us.

    I realize that this is different from what you believe, and I am not trying to change your mind. It is just that the incarnation of God means a lot to me; that God himself took on flesh and bone and met us where we are is amazing. I am awe struck thinking about God eternal taking on the limitations of humanity in order to connect with his creation; God through Jesus Christ shares our human experience. Jesus was born, grew up, experienced conflict, temptation, suffering and death just like all of us do; except he did so with out sin against the Father or others and is able to meet us where we are and take us where we could never go with out him through his resurrection. To me the incarnation is a great mystery and is more beautiful than anything; even the cross is just an extension of God himself meeting us where we are through the incarnation.

    Any way, thanks again for the freedom to exchange beliefs and our journeys. I would love to learn more about yours and will check out the Pearl of Great Price at the link you mentioned. I hope you don’t take my sharing of my beliefs as any way to minimize your beliefs; I don’t know about my preexistence but I am happy that God has met me in my existence now and that there is hope to continue in God’s presence for eternity.

    Thanks again for sharing; I look forward to reading more of your journey.

    Peace,

    James

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  6. James, for what it's worth, I could have read your comment in a Mormon Sunday School class and not one person would have batted an eye or challenged me in any way. Our beliefs are VERY different than what most people think they are.

    Some of us believe that the creation story is literal, and most believe it is at least partly allegorical and figurative (and I - a local Mormon ecclesiastical leader - believe exactly what you describe). The part about the incarnation would be phrased differently from our pulpits, but the message would be exactly the same.

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  7. Thanks for the clarification Ray, I guess I was under the false assumption that Mormons did not believe Christ was God made man, the Creator incarnate. Perhaps there still some subtle difference in the way we might look at that, but that’s ok.

    I thank you and Paradox both for the conversation.

    Peace,

    James

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  8. James, there are some substantial theological differences between Mormonism's conception of God and that of "mainstream Protestantism", but there are far more similarities than most people realize. This is a bit of an overstatement, but for someone who has studied historical creeds we are pretty much Apostles Creed Christians, not so much Nicene Creed Christians and definitely not Westminster Confession Christians - if that helps at all. :-)

    Just so it's explicit, I want to tell you that I really like what you have said - the content, but also the tone. It's refreshing to hear articulate statements about belief that are also respectful. It's what drew me to Paradox's blog, and I appreciate your ability to contribute in that same vein.

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  9. Ray, thanks again for the kind reply. As for me I am rather fond of the Nicene Creed myself, but not much of a fan of the Westminster Confession; I am definitely not a Calvinist or a fundamentalist.

    I have appreciated the tone of paradox’s blog and your comments as well. I sense in her a kindred spirit as a fellow seeker of God and faith, and I appreciate the generousness of your conversation with me as well. Thank you.

    Peace,

    James

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  10. James,

    I probably should add that there really isn't much substantive difference between the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed - except for some of the interpretations that have arisen over the years. When I say we are "not so much Nicene Creed Christians" what I really mean is that we are better described by the Apostles Creed than by what the Nicene Creed has come to mean in most divinity school classes nowadays.

    That's probably irrelevant, but I don't like leaving a misconception when it was my fault for it if there is one. (*grin*)

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  11. Ray, I don’t think it was irrelevant. I am aware of the subtle differences in the creeds and it is for the subtle difference of the Nicene Creed that emphasizes the divinity of Christ a tad more that I gravitate toward it. This is why the incarnation is so meaningful to me.

    Thanks again,

    James

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