Reading about Lehi’s vision this time I was struck by how he tells this part of the story. He is watching people take this fruit that makes one happy, is most sweet, fills our souls with exceedingly great joy, and is more desirable than any other (see 1 Ne. 8:4-12). As the people partake they look around “as if they are ashamed.” Questions began to pop up in my mind. Why did they look around in the first place? If the fruit is that delicious, what would cause them to feel ashamed? I found this super fascinating because if something were that amazing, it doesn’t seem possible to be deterred from enjoying it. Why do we allow ourselves to feel ashamed? And on the flip side, I thought of those in the building: who are they, why are they mocking, and why do they care if others are partaking of the fruit?
It’s so easy to say, “It’s the world, we’re letting the big scary world out there affect us.” We know that the great and spacious building is “the pride of the world,” but that pride is not exclusive to “them out there.” We, in the Church, need to be cautious of allowing the great and spacious building to enter our church buildings.
I recently had an experience that heightened my awareness of how the great and spacious building affects me. I’ve never been drawn to the more outward temptations of the world - - drinking, smoking, partying, etc. For me, the battle has always been much more internal. A few months ago I had found a truth that resonated with me deeply. I had come to understand my worth greater, my understanding of God’s love had increased, and my confidence had “waxed strong” because of this new insight and understanding. I felt peace, settled and content. I lived in this space for a couple of months. And then, in a matter of about a week, two or three comments were made that negated the truth I had come to understand. I thought, “If they are saying these things, then I must be wrong.” The fact that there were multiple comments was also jarring (though even one probably would have done the trick). I began to doubt and feel ashamed of what I had come to believe. I became confused because the fruit tasted so good and yet these comments made me feel “wrong.” My main trigger was that I did not want to appear above others or self-righteous because of the sweetness I had tasted. I didn’t want others to feel “bad” because I felt “good.” And so, I “fell away.” I let go of that fruit and gave into the belief that I just couldn’t enjoy the fruit to the extent that I wanted to, so I dropped it altogether. And I am still working my way back to the tree in regards to this particular situation.
How often do we look to the world for validation of how we’re living? The world is definitely getting louder. “In the attitude of mocking” we see agendas being pushed in television shows and movies, social media comments meant to belittle and degrade, and tolerance being preached above the laws of God. “...we continue to face distraction and deceptions, confusion and commotion, enticements and temptations that attempt to pull our hearts away from the Savior and the joys and beauties we have experienced in following Him (Elder Neil L. Anderson, CR 2019).” I have witnessed this same attitude amongst our members. We compare and compete and can belittle another’s faith in doing so. I am a passionate person and have feared or felt ashamed for being “too good” or believing “too much.” And yet, what I gained the most from reading the New Testament last year is from Paul‘s example of being unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was bold and fearless, never shirked from the truths he believed. He spoke with conviction and power, no matter the message he was sharing. I want to be like Paul!
How do we keep ourselves from feeling ashamed? How can we keep our eyes on sweetness of the fruit rather than looking around for that external validation? Elder Neil L. Anderson spoke of this dream in his most recent conference talk. He said, “[The fruit] represents ’the love of God’ and proclaims our Heavenly Father’s marvelous plan of redemption...This precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement....Partaking of the fruit of the tree also symbolizes that we embrace the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel...”. In other words, we keep our eyes on the Savior by learning of Him and partaking of the goodness He offers through His atoning sacrifice the covenants we make.
One of my favorite chapters of scripture is John 15. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can yet, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abide the in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” And then the Savior shares a beautiful treatise on love. Without the Savior Jesus Christ as our focus we cannot feel that incomprehensible joy that is ours to partake. Without the Savior Jesus Christ, we cannot produce the fruits necessary to bring others along on the journey.
I’ve been pondering my experience from a couple months ago, wondering what exactly happened. The short answer is: I “looked around.” I sought validation from outside sources and believed mocking fingers. Whether the mocking was intentional or not, I allowed the voices from the building to be more influential than the sweetness of the fruit. As one sister recently said, “To partake of good fruit we need to choose from the right source.” Christ is that source. As we continue to look to Him, to develop our relationship with Him and our Father in Heaven, and trust that the Holy Ghost will guide is with truth, we cannot be led away.
“When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation...and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening - or not happening - in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy....If we look to the world..., we will never know joy....[Joy] is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ (President Russell M. Nelson, CR. Oct. 2016).”
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“Keep your eyes and your hearts centered on the Savior Jesus Christ and the eternal joy that comes only through Him.”
Elder Neil L. Anderson, CR Oct. 2019