Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Purify your hearts"

James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

D&C 112: 28 But purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature who has not received it;

What does it mean to purify your heart? How does one even begin such a thing? What practical ways exist to purify your heart? We know from the Sermon on the Mount the pure in heart shall see God. So how does one do this? Is it going to happen automatically? Should we investigate this? I would say so.
I hope to help answer or at least discuss some of these questions.  This post is not perfect, and I myself am a work in progress, but I've felt I needed to post it.

To Begin:

What are some examples of "impurities" inside the heart that explains why God would instruct us to purify our hearts?

The early Saints in 1833 were suffering afflictions and persecutions. The Lord said he allowed these things to come up on them. It's part of the chastening process. In D&C section 101 the Lord tells the saints what was wrong and is a good starting point to answer the question about impurities the Lord wants us to overcome and leave behind. D&C 101:6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

We know the early saints as a group did not see or produce Zion. Above are some of the reasons. They are not unique to early Saints. They exist just as much now as probably in any day. Perhaps worse in our day due to the sheer quantity of communication happening with social media and such. Offense, jarring, contention, strife are perhaps and the opportunity to participate in it is in our face.

A few other scriptures identify some of the examples of what impurities exist within the heart.  Here is another sampling.

Mark 7: 15-20 (Inspired Version of the Bible) There is nothing from without, that entering into a man, can defile him, which is food; but the things which come out of him; those are they that defile the man, that proceedeth forth out of the heart. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from among the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he said unto them, Are ye without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of a man, defileth the man. For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

I used to think thoughts came only from the mind. But here, Christ says from the heart proceed evil thoughts.  But that's an aside.

Mosiah 3:6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.

Jarings, contentions, envying, strife, lustful and covetous desires are what to avoid.  Some of these stem from the heart of each of us.  They are the result of  emotional reactions.  This is another compelling reason we should strongly consider the doctrine of Christ, and the teaching to "become as a little child", and go back to the mind of a child to find the way out of these patterns.

We all want clean water, and we all want uncontaminated food.  But yet we so often (at least speaking from a mainstream LDS culture) consume spiritually contaminated teachings without a second thought.  We do not apply the same standards to our spiritual food as we do our physical food. I see what gets taught in traditional LDS meetings.  It's often so polluted that it's a wonder people seem to drink it up.  The effects on our spirit are probably similar to the effects on our body when we consume high levels of contaminants.  Our hearts can become impure due to the things we are taught.  When we believe falsehoods or flattery or incorrect traditions we suffer from unbelief.

So how do we purify the heart? What practical steps can one take?  How do we become as a little child?

First, we need to not deceive ourselves that strife, jarring and contention (or the potential for) exist within our own heart, not just people of the past or people of other religions.  We are fallen but being asked by God to become something much better.  We need to awaken to realities which are visible to God, but not typically things that we enjoy seeing in ourselves.  You can't fix something you do not see.  King Benjamin's people are one of the great examples in the Book of Mormon of a people who had a reaction to a message from God which caused them to "see" themselves in their lost and fallen state (Mosiah 4:2).  Until you "see" that in yourself, you won't have the same kind of motivation to embrace the Lord and the Gospel as you would if you do see it.  So we need to be humble and willing to see things we'd rather not see.   A message from God can do this.

The Heart:

As we grow up, bad things happen to all of us.  We get hurt, disappointed, mistreated, left out, and sometimes far worse things.  These experiences during formative years leave a trail, and or wounds to the heart.  Even those with seemingly perfect upbringings will likely be able to recall times when they were, or perceived to have been, mistreated or harmed in some way.  Even what other would call small events for the individual involved can leave lasting and deep wounds.  Some have experienced things so tragic it is difficult to speak of.  But no matter who we are, our lives have experienced let down, disappointment, feeling abandoned, not feeling good enough, or the like.    

These wounds hurt, and as we grow up we all want to guard against people causing us repeat trouble. So we often develop beliefs and walls around these early experiences.  We believe that life is "hard" or that men are "jerks" that women are "naggy" or that "money = fighting" or that "I"m not worthy or worth anything" "Things don't work out for me", "God speaks to others but not me".  These beliefs about ourselves and life form and color our experience and dramatically impact how we interact with the world.  They get buried, and covered up until we don't tend to think about them, or draw any connections between such things and adult problems. But they are startlingly relevant to our adult lives.  The thoughtless reactions we have to things people say and do are often reactions due to pain and hurt within our own heart.  We cannot even hear or listen to or discuss important topics when our hearts are so triggered with strong feelings. 

We're all probably familiar with the "cream-stripping" incident in August or September of 1838, involving Thomas B. Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris.  A whole mass of trouble that arose from the milk fiasco for him and those involved. The issue made it's way to the first presidency.  Just one notable example, but we could probably all identify similar types of trouble where peoples reactions, strife and jarring are more intense than the physical circumstances or topic would seem to merit.  I believe this is due to pain and hurt and insecurity inside the heart.  

When two people with wounded hearts try to discuss something with as high of stakes as the Gospel and eternal concepts it's an environment ripe for jarrings and contentions. Trying to discuss such topics while at the same time carrying a heart full of wounds and pain prevent us from hearing what another person is saying, without reacting.  We peer through our own insecurities onto the outer world and will misinterpret things almost all the time.  We take offense when it had more to do with the glass we were looking through rather than what the other person was saying.  So we fight back.  We get upset.  We criticize and judge and sometimes condemn others for their beliefs and behavior.  Often these things come out of us due to our own personal inner wounds.

I wonder if these are the doors through which the adversary can pass.  The bitterness, the anger, the wounds, the hurt, or the pain, or feeling worthless, hopeless.  These may offer passage to the adversary.  They can also humble us thought, and bring us to God.  Personal inner pain will often trigger someone else's inner pain, and that will trigger other peoples reactions and we end up fighting and contending.  On the surface it's about politics or religion, but underneath, it's about issues of the heart.

Attempting to become one in heart will naturally bring to the surface all those impurities which prevent the unity.  Just like heating up gold brings the impurities to the surface.  We often respond to these things in very immature and manipulative ways. We take offense due to our inner wounds, we resort to adult tantrums, emotional blackmail, avoidance, or intentionally putting distance between ourselves and others to prove a point.  We do this thinking it will bring a positive outcome or guard us against feelings we don't like.  We sometimes conclude, for example, that our anger is somehow going to "get results" by being violent.  But even if it gets temporary results, it doesn't last, and usually has collateral damage.  We sometimes play "poor me" or do self pity type behaviors thinking we will get needed love and attention from others.  We have learned stuff like this in childhood and we perpetuate the behavior whenever certain situations arise, usually without thinking.  But these types of things almost always backfire because they comes from an immature place inside.  We are sometimes abrasive to others because we fail to perceive their heart and needs.  We're too busy proving our own point and proving how justified our feelings are.  Again, something we wouldn't be motivated to do, if our own heart was content.  

We all know that "one" person who irritates us to the core.  Whether a coworker, sibling or whomever.  There are people who get under our skin in ways that we all dislike.  These people show us ourselves in the mirror.  If you want to purify your heart, find that person, and pray for them, take the time to understand them. Realize that they are triggering something inside of YOU, that needs fixing.  Blaming them accomplishes nothing.  

Our spouses and kids are typically very good at "pushing our buttons".  They know these buttons well, and how far they can push them.  We ourselves tend to know what our buttons are but will usually pretend we don't have them. Or we become defensive about them.  And we come up with really sophisticated ways of justifying our reactions, using reasoning and debate.  This is why debate rarely opens hearts, and doesn't convert anyone.  Hammers work good for lots of things, but if your uncovering a fossil for example, a brush and finer tools will work better.  Same applies to people.  In a calm moment we don't perceive any of the wounds and hurts and bitterness inside our own hearts.  They've often been buried so long they might as well be fossils.  However someone can come along and say just the right thing and BAM! you discover your heart had a lesion on it that you had become very good at covering up.  We build walls as we grow up.  We put up doors.  And we think this keeps us safe.    

We've probably all seen two people having a disagreement and neither can see the other persons point of view.  They are both battling each others wounds.  Neither can see clearly.  These tend to escalate and even more hurt feelings and bitterness result since neither feels understood. Logic and arguments about facts don't often speak to the heart.  The heart has it's own sort of language and it speaks more with the tone of your voice, and the attitude you carry, rather than the logical aspects or words you are using.  

Christ says he stands at the door and knocks. We are the one who put up the barrier.  We created these throughout our life.  Often to protect our heart, or maybe sometimes to "get back at the world" so we shut it out by building walls.  Since we are the ones that locked the heart, we are the ones who
hold the key to opening it. The doors can be opened from the inside.

Christ knocks, but we must open the door of our hearts. Opportunities to do this are more common than we may first think.

The Mistake:

We so often will attribute the source of our pain or our reactions to someone else and something outside of ourselves. The other driver in front of us, the people on the news, or the inconsiderate neighbor, that obnoxious person on social media, or the sibling who is so damn irritating....  We think THEY are the source of the inner turbulence we feel.  "If they would only stop that", the problem would go away we often think.

When in reality the problem that should most concerns us is the one inside the person experiencing the irritation.  That same driver or sibling may not irritate other people.  The wounds people push on, or prick, or trigger inside us belong to us.  They are soft spots, or sticky points inside ourselves.  As we move through life, things stick to or push these buttons.  It "zings" us.  They will be unique to each person.    

The truth is, its our heart, our reaction, our feelings, our insecurities that life tends to prod and poke.  We miss the point when we blame others or attribute our internal reactions to something outside of us.  I'm not addressing situations of real abuse, that is a bit of a different topic than I'm writing about.  The focus of this post is about purifying our own hearts since that is what we are fully responsible for. Turning the looking glass inward, and in some instances healing from abusive events or situations from our past causes us to react very differently to the world.  The more we do heal and clean up our hearts, I think the more likely we are to be able to respond better, more directly, and more intelligently to others. Jesus taught to remove the beam from our own eye first, then we will see clearly to help remove the beam from our "brothers" eye.  Notice the familial term brother.  Those close to us, family, and fellowships.  Beams and motes come up often in such places.

There are a thousand justifications for not doing addressing the wounds in our own hearts.  We deny we need it.  The mind will instantly identify some other person who is the one who needs to look inward.  Some personalities will feel it's selfish to focus on themselves and their wounds, but this can be an excuse to not take responsibility for your own heart.  Some traditions say that if we would just stop thinking about ourselves, or hum a hymn, or just act cheery our deep trouble would magically heal.... or something like that. I find those types of traditions shallow and unhelpful at best.   

Christ in section 112 of the D&C says "Purify your hearts before me, and THEN, go ye unto all the world..."  (caps mine).  Seems there is a sequence.  Preaching the Gospel is after purifying your heart.  You put the oxygen mask in your own face when you are in an airplane, then you assist others.  Gasping for air while trying to help others put their oxygen mask on is not noble, and usually not helpful, and often they won't be as receptive to your help when you are in such a desperate state.            

The Healing   

Love heals.  Love changes things.  When people lash out, or are unkind, or perceive others to be unkind, chances are they both carry deep hurt.  The saying goes that healed people heal people, hurt people hurt people.  It's the inner pain of all of us that often fuels our disputes and contentions.  We all need healing.   

So what's the answer?  How do you purify and heal your heart of the impurities?  How do we sow up the wounds?  Christ taught that we are to offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit. When we are broken hearted, we are typically willing to accept or see things we would not receive or consider under other circumstances.      

A New Heart:  

Mosiah 27: 25-26 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God,changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

This is more than controlling your anger. Or resisting the urge to snap at people.  This is more than controlling your outward behavior.  Controlling your outward behavior (or not acting on certain things) may get you an LDS temple recommend, but, as you can read in Mosiah, the Gospel and the kingdom of God has much loftier goals and standards.  King Benjamin witnessed his people have a mighty change of heart, in so much that they lost their disposition to do evil.  This happens through faith, by hearing an authentic message from God. It happens through faith on Jesus Christ. He changes our inner fallen nature.

How does He do this?  I don't have all the answers, but I know it involves His knowledge, and His love.  The light and truth within Him, the overwhelming love of Christ alters what it comes in contact with.  He is a being of perfect love.  

Moroni 7:47 "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him".

Alma 26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Moroni's wording "whoso is found possessed of it" oddly leaves the interpretation open as to who is doing the possessing. Either you are possessed by charity. Or you posses charity. Moroni's words can mean either.  Both are worth thinking about.

Imagine for a second what "possessing" or "being possessed by" the pure love of Christ does for you personally. If Charity was dwelling inside your heart what would it do?  If you let it, would it not heal things?  Would it not (if you let it) eventually permeate your being?  Were you to open yourself to this, you would then begin to interact with the world from a fundamentally different place.

We are all fallen. And I suspect we all got hurt from falling that far, not to mention the wounds and problems we experience as we grow up here.  Christ's love heals those effects and literally causes changes inside the heart. It alters the disposition. Following some man, repeating mantra's, platitudes, and reading endless meme's does not do this. The door to your heart is unique to you.  You know the walls you've built.  You know the locks you've placed.  Only you know where you need to return, in order to unlock the door.  I've seen many a heart open, and heal. Often through what appears to be silly or childlike or very simple means.  One of the best is simply taking accountability.  It diffuses negative emotion about as fast as anything.  Just take accountability for what you did, said, or failed to do, sincerely, and people will generally soften. and sometimes genuine taking of accountability will prompt the other party to do the same.  And when that happens, friends meet.  

Using crayons to color out what you are feeling.  Feelings relate very well to colors.  Talking to trusted friends. Meditating. Forgiving those who have wronged you.  Taking the time to truly understand the inner pain or crap of an upbringing that may be part of why a person acts in ways that appear crazy, rude, or hostile to you.  Being vulnerable and admitting when you err.  Standing up for yourself calmly, and firmly from a place of love.  Setting firm boundaries.  Following that first prompting of your conscience when it nudges you to act, or pick up a book, or let go of a burden you have been carrying.  Keeping a private journal, in which you express the innermost feelings of your heart, your deepest fears, frustrations, disappointments, desires, and wishes.

How each person does this will be unique to them.  But it works.  I've watched it hundreds of times.  People are generally just unaware of how to really begin.  Life is really good at showing us what issues we carry.  Proverbs 4:23: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

As a side note perhaps after the above it's more clear why the scriptures say knowing all mysteries is nothing if the person doesn't have charity. It's nothing because mysteries in the hands of a fallen person filled with the effects and hurts of the fall would do no good. The hurt and pain and walls within them would either cause pride, or cause them to misuse the mysteries to harm or inflict pain and or fear upon others. So perhaps God isn't being  "exclusive" with mysteries, maybe he's more being incredibly practical.

Our heats are often full of gunk, which makes them doubt, disbelieve, and get hard and become closed off to (deny) the Spirit.  Not to mention closed off to our fellow man.  We are so often blind.  Too much of the wrong religious garbage has given us a nasty case of spiritual heart disease.  Our hearts are full of unbelief and we typically don't see it.  But yet Christ asks us to purify our hearts.  

God doesn't ask us to do things without preparing a way to accomplish it.