While in college my Dad took me and my two brothers on a cross-country motorcycle trip. We started in Portland Oregon, rode to Boston, Massachusetts, and then rode the entire way back. A trip like this has a lot of inherent risk, but what amplified the danger was that none of us had ever before ridden a motorcycle.
One of the first lessons I had to learn was to look where I wanted to go. This is actually much harder than it sounds. It’s not natural. For example, when you are riding by an obstacle, and you’re afraid you may hit it, and you stare at it because you don’t want to hit it, the likelihood you will smack into the thing you are staring at increases a lot more than you may think. Likewise, if you concentrate on where you want to go when driving by something potentially dangerous – chances are you will go to the place you are looking instead of hitting the obstacle.
When we were riding through Kansas we decided to take an off-ramp to get some food. When slowing down on the highway to take the exit, there was some construction with a lip on the road that ran parallel to the direction I was riding. I was really nervous about crossing this lip in the road, and because of it I was staring at it intently when I crossed. Sure enough, I hit it wrong and crashed my motorcycle. I did exactly what I didn’t want to do because it was the thing that filled my mind. I am also pretty sure that if I had looked at where I wanted to go instead of the 3-inch lip I would have been fine and crossed it without a problem. A very small obstacle almost killed me because I had given it so much attention.
This principle works when skiing, biking, skateboarding,… pretty much whenever you are in forward motion. And what is life, if not the collective experience of forward motion?
This is a particularly powerful principle when it comes to overcoming sin, weakness, addiction, and destructive behavior. If we focus and fret and are concerned with the thing we want to avoid, chances are, we will fall right into it.
Like a rocket trying to leave the pull of the Earth’s gravity, escaping the natural man can seem similarly impossible. Herculean strength, world-class discipline, and even supreme will power will not ultimately overcome the tendencies of fallen flesh in the long-run.
When overcoming a sin, an addiction, a weakness there is an instinctual tendency to want to fight the thing we are trying to overcome. By fighting, we may believe that it is by the exertion of our own will that we can overcome our weaknesses – that we can pull away from the Earth’s gravity. Even after expending our best efforts, it is not uncommon to continually fall back into natural habits, fundamental weaknesses, spirit-crushing addictions, and, like Nephi, to feel “encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easilyme” (2 Nephi 4: 18).
It is also a mistaken, but common, belief to assume that Christ really helps, or forgives, or accepts after we conquer our own weaknesses. This may be a result of a commonly taught philosophy of man that reasons Christ helps us only after we expend our best efforts to help ourself. The working assumption being that Christ does not love us unconditionally in our fallen state, but only after we extract ourselves from our fallen tendencies do we earn the right to call upon Christ for his forgiveness and healing.
Precisely because we give our weaknesses attention, thought, and because of our fear of them, they tend to consume us. Lot and his wife fleeing Sodom is almost a perfect metaphor of this problem. As they both left we all know that Lot’s wife turned back to look at Sodom. She was reduced to salt (whatever that means). It is in looking at the thing we are avoiding that we are taken in and consumed by it.
Does overcoming the natural self have to be the war we make it out to be?
First, we know that it is Christ that delivers us and transforms us from our natural and fallen disposition. It is the power of Christ that heals us, and can remake us from the natural self to a child of Christ. It is only through the deliverance of the mighty change of heart, spiritual rebirth, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost are we redeemed from our fallen and carnal state. What King Benjamin taught is worth constantly revisiting:
“For theis an to God, and has been from the of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he to the enticings of the , and off the man and becometh a through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a , , meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3: 19).
So, how do we engage Christ in a way so that we can learn to live in a state of being born again, and maintain the disposition to no more desire evil?
Christ is where we want to go. Instead of squaring off with our weaknesses, obsessing over them, planning our lives around them, and fighting every day “to do a little better than the day before” what would happen if we just abandoned ourself to doing and focusing on the truth which is in Christ?
In other words, instead of fighting our weaknesses, we just ask questions like the following:
- What is the Holy Ghost prompting me to do this very moment?
- What does the Lord want me to do in the next hour?
- How can I seek to be completely full of light today?
Darkness cannot be overcome by force, or attention, or by squaring off and fighting it. It is overcome by casting all of our attention on light and truth. If we wrestle with weakness, weakness will always eventually win. If we are filled with light we win immediately.
This principle is taught very clearly in the scriptures. When the children of Israel were bitten by serpents an easy way was prepared for their deliverance.
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for theytheir hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be ; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17: 41).
What if our sins and weaknesses are our fiery flying serpents that he sends to us to discover the easiness of being healed by Christ if learn how to focus our attention?
Just like riding my motorcycle and being afraid of hitting an obstacle, it may require us fighting every instinct we have to not pay attention to what we are afraid of, but if we can act against the instinct we discover a certain easiness of giving ALL of our attention to Christ.
And when we fully commit to Christ, which includes being obedient to every prompting we receive in every moment, we find ourselves delivered. If we take action to fill our minds with truth, and will our awareness with light and gratitude, we find ourselves very naturally letting go of the natural man. It becomes a paper tiger.
What we give our attention to gives us strength. If our attention is on darkness our strength will be darkened. If we give our attention to light, and only light, our strength becomes light.
The counsel is simple and perfect:
unto me in every ; not, fear not! (D&C 6: 36)