What I've learned about the role of vulnerability and brotherhood in preparing myself for Zion

I had done it again. I had just snapped at my wife, and as I tried to apologize and pick up the pieces after having overreacted, I wondered to myself, “What just happened?” I couldn’t understand how my anger had exploded so quickly; in fact, it seemed to show up before I even consciously processed what my wife had said. What added to my frustration was that I had no idea how to address this in a healthy way. Even though I was able to keep the anger under wraps most of the time, it was a problem, and being the bishop of my local ward only added to the pressure to get my life and house in order (SeeDoctrine and Covenants 93:50).

As I looked for solutions to bring greater peace into my heart and home, I found answers in an unlikely place—a men’s retreat. An experience that for me, was life changing. Within those few short days, the words of the Lord in scriptures came to life for me in new and very real ways. Concepts such as brotherhood, agency, choice, and belief were illuminated in my mind and the healing, enabling power of the Atonement of Christ felt more accessible than ever before. 

The Power of Brotherhood and Vulnerability

As I integrated what I learned at the retreat with my study of the scriptures, I came to realize that there is much more to the scriptural injunction, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Although this scripture refers specifically to the importance of marriage, I realized that I also needed brothers. I needed a group of men who could challenge me to rise above my mediocrity and hold me accountable while I held them accountable in return. 

In the past, I had many acquaintances in my church, work, and personal communities, but very few deep friendships. In the scriptures and Church history, we read of many examples of brotherhood, such as Alma and the sons of Mosiah (seeAlma 27:16-17) or the loyal friends of Joseph Smith whose bonds were so strong that the men would willingly die for one another. Yet in today’s “connected” world, many of us have never been more isolated. That was certainly true for me; I was depressed, anxious, and disconnected. Men are taught to be independent, to “man up” and “tough it out.” As I grew up, the influence of my peer group convinced me that boys don’t cry and that showing weakness was unacceptable. I took those ideas to heart and chose to close off my emotions, to protect myself and to keep people at a distance so they could never know the real me. 

That all changed when I met men who were comfortable with who they were and were willing to open up and share their pain and losses without fear or apology. Their vulnerability invited me to open up as well because I knew it was safe to let my guard down without being judged or rejected. On the contrary, letting down the walls that I had been hiding behind allowed me to feel the love I had been shutting out. In her bestselling book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” I found that to be true, and along the way, have found the brotherhood I hadn’t known I needed.

Emotional Awareness

As a covenant-making and covenant-keeping people, we know that a part of the covenant we make at baptism is to be willing to “bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8). I have come to see that emotional burdens can be devastating—sometimes more difficult to bear than physical pain. Unfortunately, few of us are aware of, let alone equipped to really help our loved ones bear emotional burdens. I've learned the need for emotional awareness and have been taught skills to begin to take charge of my own emotions and how I can also help others. 

I’ve always loved the imagery of Jesus’s teachings about the mote and the beam (Matthew 7:5). Previously, I believed I had an adequate understanding of this doctrine. However, with some additional insight, I learned how to actively apply the Lord’s counsel in powerful and practical ways that changed the way I recognize my emotions and interact with the world. Essentially, I learned to detect when my “beam” was conflicting with someone else’s “mote,” or to look at my emotions, learn from them and surrender my judgments to Christ. When I take the time to work through a painful emotion, I learn more about myself. And when I apply the Atonement of Christ, I can leave the pain of the emotion in His hands.

Changing Limiting Beliefs

Perhaps the most powerful concept I was taught is that I have the power to discern and change my own limiting beliefs. For years, I have recognized that I sometimes self-sabotage, but when it came to changing those behaviors, I was at a loss. I also struggled with low self-esteem and lacked confidence. Science tells us that many of the beliefs about ourselves are formed very early in life, often in an effort to make sense of difficult challenges. For example, if someone grows up in an abusive home, they may adopt the belief that they are not lovable in an effort to understand what is happening to them. However, this way of thinking is not only heartbreaking, it may also wreak havoc on relationships later in life.

I, like many of us, have many limiting beliefs that keep me from believing in my own potential. However, as I have been taught how to find these beliefs and literally surrender them to Christ, my life has changed dramatically. I find that when I am completely open with the Savior about what belief I’ve been holding onto, He is more than willing to give me what I like to call an “upgraded” belief. This matters because as we read in Proverbs 23:7, “for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We can choose to change disempowering beliefs, and thus change our being and draw closer to our divine potential.

We are called to build Zion, and as our living prophetPresident Nelson has said, we are “preparing the world for the Savior's second coming.” We have the priesthood and all of the sacred ordinances to prepare the world for the Second Coming, but we also need to build Zion in each of our individual hearts. As we gain emotional awareness, change our limiting beliefs, and achieve greater unity, I truly believe that Zion will be our reality and we will be ready to receive the Lord when He comes.

Matt Allred serves a bishop in Loganville, Georgia. He is a founding partner of One Heart One Light (oneheartonelight.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing training and educational retreats focused on helping individuals apply the Atonement of Christ to achieve their greatest potential. 

Lead image courtesy of Matt Allred.

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