When I was younger I had a very unpleasant "tradition." Twice a year my throat was attacked to where each time I swallowed, it caused me immense pain and my throat constantly burned. Every time, my mother took me to the doctor, who identified the problem as strep throat. Visiting him for my diagnosis quickly joined my "tradition" of having a burning throat. After years of catching—and healing—from strep, I finally had my tonsils removed. Not only was the following week one of the best of my life, but since that day I have never had strep throat again.
False doctrines are like a spiritual sickness. Without our knowledge, these false ideas can grow inside us, infecting truth until the false doctrines become part of how we act. If we don’t properly identify what is ailing us, they are never permanently corrected and it can lead to an even worse result. On the other end, if we can identify the problem, the solution can be not only liberating but healing. Here are three spiritual sicknesses you may not know you have and how to rid yourself of them.
Infection/false doctrine: Belief in mortal perfection instead of eternal perfection.
Potential symptoms: Judgmental, hard to please, excessively self-deprecating.
I believe few Latter-day Saints truly claim that we believe we can have eternal perfection while in mortality. Talks such as “Perfection Pending” by President Russell M. Nelson and “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually” by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland absolutely negate that idea. Yet, many of us struggle to act on this belief, as Elder Holland describes:
“Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: ’I am just not good enough.’ ’I fall so far short.’ ‘I will never measure up.’ I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. . .”
The statements Elder Holland refers to tell me that despite what we say about becoming perfect, many of us truly believe we can be perfect in this life.
If we truly believed perfection was a process, our actions would resemble piano lessons more than a college final. Our mistakes would bring us focus and direction, not discourage us as if they were our final grade. We would be less judgmental towards the choices of others and instead would recognize their efforts to improve.
Diagnosis: Here are some questions to help you recognize if you don’t actually believe what you say you do about perfection.
1. How do I react when my plans get ruined?
2. What are my first thoughts when I learn that someone has made a mistake?
3. How often do I beat myself up for making a mistake?
4. How willing am I to forgive myself? How willing am I to forgive others?
Potential Cure: If we believe we can be perfect, then the first step to ridding ourselves of this affliction is acknowledging our own continual growth while simultaneously coming closer to the Savior of the World through repentance. Read your old journal entries and write down how you used to be versus how you are now. Compare your past self with your current self and put into perspective how far you have come as well as the improvements you have made. If you're feeling especially motivated, identify an area where you are not as good as you used to be and bring it to the Lord. Utilize the power of Christ and work to improve in that area. This exercise is not meant to discourage but to help you recognize your faults while relying on the atoning power of Jesus Christ.
Other cure ideas: Read Mosiah 2:18-26 and find one thing every day to ask for forgiveness for. Or before you judge someone, ask yourself what might have caused you to act as they did, and then assume that is what happened to them (sometimes this is referred to as the benefit of the doubt).
Salvation by Works
Infection/false doctrine: Belief in salvation by works instead of salvation by works and grace.
Symptoms: Giving up, preoccupation with James 2:26, self-conscious, over-worked
I know a man—we’ll call him Darren—who, in his youth, suffered from this ailment. On his mission, Darren often found himself arguing with investigators over the topic of salvation. Convinced that the Church did not believe in being saved by grace, he would argue that it was a person’s works that truly mattered. Luckily one of Darren’s companions was finally able to help him see the error of this belief, but I don’t blame him for thinking as he did. As his companion probably explained, we believe that women and men are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. All of us, no matter our sins, will be resurrected and will be brought to stand before our Father in Heaven one day.
Not all symptoms will be as extreme as Darren’s but they are present nonetheless. From my own observations, symptoms manifest more often as feelings of anger, sadness, or hopelessness. I know so many who have simply given up trying to live the gospel because they feel like it poses unrealistic expectations. Without the doctrine of being saved by grace, they would be absolutely right. It is true that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) but that is because faith without works isn’t faith. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained the correlation between the doctrine around grace and works when he said, “Being cleansed from sin through Christ’s Atonement is conditioned upon the individual sinner’s faith, which must be manifested by obedience to the Lord’s command to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37-38, emphasis added). Obedience is not the act; it is the result of our faith in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Diagnosis: Here are some questions to help you recognize if you believe a little too much in your works.
1. What is your general attitude toward repentance?
2. Why do you live the standards of the gospel? (Not why should you)
3. When you make a mistake or sin, how does it affect you?
4. Do you find living the gospel and obeying its precepts joyful?
Potential Cure: If we struggle with the misconception of being saved by grace, nothing will cure us faster than a thorough study of Jesus Christ with an emphasis on grace. Elder Dieter F. Utchdorf said,
“Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude… Therefore, our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God. This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace.”
And I’d be willing to say that if our works merged with God’s grace then our beliefs surrounding them would follow suit.
Other cure ideas: When you make a mistake, ask yourself the question: “Was Christ surprised that I made this mistake or did He already pay the price for it?” (see Alma 34:10, 12) and ponder what your answer means, write a note to yourself everyday—it can be a scripture, something of your own creation, whatever works for you—that reminds you of the doctrine of grace, or study how the intent of our hearts are viewed in God’s eyes.
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Narrow Definition of Pride
Infection/false doctrine: Belief in a narrow definition of pride, that sometimes doesn’t include yourself.
Symptoms: Self-absorption, stubbornness, extreme independence, superiority complex
The symptoms for pride are some of the hardest to recognize because if you are afflicted with pride you don’t think you have a problem. That’s why it is the most deadly of all the spiritual sicknesses. I hear a lot of talk about pride, yet the conversations I have had with members of the Church leads me to believe many of us do not understand how multifaceted pride can be, myself included. I usually hear pride summed up with this sentence: “Pride is when someone thinks they are better than someone else.” Left to that definition, I don’t know how many of us fit in that box. I do not believe that there are very many people in this world who consciously go around thinking they are better than everyone else.
Yet, pride underlies every bad thing that we do. The most common form I’ve seen comes from the obsession we seem to increasingly have with independence. We will refuse needed help both spiritually and temporally all for the sake of being independent. We don’t want others to know that we have flaws, that our lives aren’t perfect (remember the spiritual sickness of perfection?), or we delude ourselves into thinking we can handle something that we can’t. In whatever ways we are rebelling against opportunities to grow, change, and learn temporally as well as spiritually, they all stem from pride.
Diagnosis: These questions will help you determine just how narrow your definition of pride really is.
1. Do you reject help more than you accept it?
2. In any given situation, who are you concerned about more often: yourself or others?
3. To what lengths will you go to preserve your independence?
4. Who would you willingly accept advice from? Whose advice would you reject? Why?
Potential Cure: Ministering is one amazing way we can begin to cure ourselves of pride. I’m not just talking about ministering to those individuals to whom you have been assigned; I’m also talking about allowing yourself to be ministered to. Reach out to your ministers; let them know what you need, tell them how they can help and don’t be ashamed of your struggles. If you let them, they will not only strengthen you but you will give your ministers an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience as well. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another…” (1 Thes. 5:11).
Other cure ideas: Accept kind criticism from anyone (while making sure you still evaluate and filter out false or deconstructive criticism) and make an effort to change. You can also ask for help at least two times every single day, or every time you do something for yourself you can instead do something for someone else.
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