I recently gave this talk in Church. I really enjoy speaking. It forces me to dig deep and organize and write down my thoughts. It helps me to crystallize truths better.
Today is my son Edger’s birthday. He turns 5. He knows that his birthday comes after Christmas, so 2 years ago, after Christmas Angela was putting up some balloons and decorations for New Year’s Eve. Edger came downstairs and saw the balloons and streamers and exclaimed, “Happy Birthday to Meee!” We turned the situation into an opportunity to ask him, “What do you want for your birthday?” Without missing a beat he said: “Presents.”
I am a big fan of Dr. Laura Markham’s work. She’s a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and founder of Aha! Parenting. Each year around Christmas she writes a blog post about the holiday season and one of the major things she emphasizes is that what kids really want is presence. That’s presence – p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e. That is they want their parents to be present, more than just gifts. If we think about it, the memorable parts of the holiday tend to be the traditions and time spent with our family that connected us to our parents and siblings. Dr. Laura urges that if our focus is on being present rather than shopping for presents the holiday will be more fulfilling. The loving presence of loved ones fills our tanks emotionally.
Certainly this has been the biggest challenge that the pandemic has wrought upon our highly social species — restrictions placed on our ability to be in each others’ presence. It is beautiful and easy to see the wisdom in the commandment that the saints should gather together oft — to enjoy the blessings of presence.
This week we’ve had the opportunity to read about the defining event of the lives of Adam and Eve, our first parents. The event that led to mankind’s separation from living in the presence of God. Following the creation, where God created man and woman in His image, God gave them a commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. Adam not only named all the creations, but he named the help God created for him and said, “she shall be called Woman (capital W)… Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Moses 3:23,25). There’s so much here. One thing I love about this scripture is it is scriptural evidence of our Heavenly Mother. Adam and Eve are the first parents, their only parents are their heavenly ones. And yet here, God tells them that man will leave his father AND his mother and cleave to his wife. We know that Adam remembers this important commandment because he later uses it as justification for his decision to eat the forbidden fruit. This scripture also points out that there was no shame. God then gives Adam and and the woman another commandment, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it,…lest ye die.” We read that Satan then came as a serpent to the woman saying, “Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
In his book The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson brings a new insight we can learn from the fall, “And stating flatly that the woman will not die, the serpent offers her a new rendition of the truth. A startling one, to be sure. But this is not nearly as factual sleight of hand. To be told that you will be like God may seem like a good thing. I would love to hear that. But the subtle corollary to this idea is that, given the prohibition to the fruit of this particular tree, by implication [Satan is saying here] God does not want you to be like him. God does not want you to have what he has. He does not want you to be as close and as connected to him as you might think he does. And by further implication, therefore, you are not as important as you think. You, as it turns out, are less than you think. You. Are. Not. Enough.” And coming from the father of lies, we know this as a powerful lie. Just this month we’ve read, “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). God WANTS us to be like him — which is why God knows that Adam and the woman must fall and that a Savior would be prepared FROM THE FOUNDATION of the world–before the creation even started.
We return to Satan the serpent tempting the woman to eat the forbidden fruit. And this week, I noticed something here, to this point in Moses 4, Eve has been referred to as the woman. The woman, recognizing no other way to be like God without knowing good and evil, we read:
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” After they eat of the forbidden fruit their eyes become opened, perhaps at this point their bodies begin or have undergone a change toward mortality, the devil encourages them to hide. This is the effect of shame. It makes us want to hide from God. God calls out to them, “Where goest thou?” And to Adam’s credit he comes when called, “I head thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid (notice the effect of shame), because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.” The Lord God then explains the consequence of the mortal change which has come upon them — mortality will be filled with sorrow. To me this is reminiscent of the first noble truth of Buddhism “Life includes suffering.” To Adam the Lord indicates that all this suffering though, shall be FOR his sake, “…cursed shall be the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”
Adam’s trials and difficulties could refine him and bring him closer to God, if he so chooses.
And finally it is after their fall, after his eyes are opened that Adam calls his wife’s name Eve. Moses 4:26: “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living;” And I realized, without opposition, without knowledge of good and evil, or joy and suffering, were Adam and the Woman really LIVING in Eden at all? It’s like Jonathan Swift’s quote, “May you live all the days of your life.” And so I realized that the name Adam chose was one of utter gratitude and honor for the decision the woman had made “Eve — the mother of all living”. And that reminded me of the beautiful declaration that the Savior made when he came to the earth, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Eve, what a beautiful name.
God then reveals how shame and suffering will be overcome, speaking to the devil God says, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The only person to be born of just the seed of the woman and not of man, was/is Christ. Christ will bruise the head of the serpent (being ultimately victorious over Satan by overcoming death and hell through his atonement and resurrection) yet Satan will have power to cause Christ to suffer (as evidenced by Christ becoming susceptible to temptation, suffering, and death through crucifixion).
There is so much more that we can learn from the fall, indeed, not long after they were expelled from the garden of Eden, we read in Moses 5:4: “And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord” — I am sure that the devil was doing all he could to make Adam and Eve feel unworthy to call upon the Lord. I’m sure he was stressing that they were no longer wanted because they were kicked out and all sorts of feelings of shame were being used to prevent and separate them from God. But we learn the truth taught in the Doctrine and Covenants 88:63, “draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” — Adam and Eve drew unto the Lord, “and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.”
The Lord then gave them commandments that they should worship the Lord and should offer the firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord. Adam does so, he builds an altar and he offers sacrifice. And the scripture says “after many days” and if you’re like me there are a lot of times in the scriptures where the Lord says, “I come quickly” and it’s been nearly 2000 years, so when the scriptures say something like “many days” I interpret that as A LONG TIME. I don’t imagine it was the first time that Adam offered sacrifice that the angel appeared to him. I imagine it was after many sacrifices — after many of the animals in his flocks had had their firstborns. Maybe even after some of the secondborns had had their firstborns. I think that it was at least long enough that the Lord knew that Adam was going to continue to be obedient. Then an angel of the Lord appears and asks, “Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?” And Adam answers, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” And the angel teaches that the animal sacrifice “is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father….And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.” And Eve also, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:10-11) The fall made possible the atonement and later redemption of mankind. C.S. Lewis remarked: “For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity would have been, more glorious than any unfallen race now is. (C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle”, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan, 1978, 122-23; emphasis added. “
As we’ve seen, shame is an emotion that the devil uses to make us feel that there is something wrong with us. The difference between shame and guilt is that guilt is where we feel that we have DONE something wrong, not that we ARE wrong. Brene Brown, a researcher on shame said, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection…. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” A major difference between shame and guilt is the process of applying that emotion to our identity rather than our behavior. This is incredibly important. We learned about this importance just this month in Moses chapter 1. In this chapter, I believe we are shown some of the vision that Moses experienced when he saw the burning bush. When God appears to Moses, 3 times he tells him, “Moses, thou art my son” and “Moses, my son, thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten”, and “Moses, my son”. He’s showing Moses many of the worlds that He has created and then telling him that Moses is His son. He’s teaching a primary lesson from the primary song, “I am a Child of God.” This very lesson combats shame. To the “You.Are.Not.Enough-feeling of shame, he is telling Moses, “I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; … and behold, thou art my son.” That sounds like — “You. Are. Enough.” or “I Love You.” And yet after the vision ends, Satan comes to Moses trying to combat this lesson that Moses is a child of God saying, “Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12). Moses withstands the devil using the things the Lord taught him in the vision.
From the Church’s website we read, “We should exercise care in how we label ourselves. Labels should be used thoughtfully and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Labels can affect how we think about ourselves and how others treat us and may expand or limit our ability to follow God’s plan for our happiness. Labels may impact our goals, sense of identity, and the people we call friends. If labels get in the way of our eternal progress, we can choose to change them. ” Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us. The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path.” (churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/gay/individuals?lang=eng) One day, all other labels will be swallowed up in our eternal identity as children of God.”
In high school, I suffered a deep bout of depression. Much of it stemmed from anxiety that I had made a grievous mistake. I succumbed to shame. The shame rocked the foundation of my identity as a righteous, good person. My younger sister, when she was just starting college, after having won beauty pageants experienced one of the great trials of her life. On a date she fell off a small cliff and hit her head. The next day she started experiencing blurryness in one of her eyes. She went to the emergency room and learned that her retina was detaching. Thus began months and operations in attempt to save her sight in that eye. One of the operations left this eye lazy and crossed. She was now faced with fears and worries that she would be cross-eyed forever. How would this impact her future, would she get married? Beauty–Something that had been close to her identity was potentially lost. This was heart wrenching for her and for us who loved her. Thankfully, another surgery was able to fix the lazy eye so it wasn’t cross-eyed and the surgery helped prevent losing the eye all-together; however, saving the eye left her blind in it. Another person I know has built a portion of his identity on his monetary success. Recently he undertook a great business risk by going all-in on a major investment. For a while this major investment was at risk of failure and there was a risk that this person could lose all of his money. He sank into a deep depression. Because he had chosen to let his money define a portion of his identity, even the possibility of losing it became incredibly painful as it felt like losing a part of who he was. The story of Job gives a great example of this. God strips Job of all the things that Job could use to define his identity, other than who he is as a child of God. In all of these personal examples, each person had to rely on their belief in their own self-worth, had to rely on their testimony of God, and had to seek His help in redefining their identity foremost as children of God–worthy of His love.
Christ tells a parable of a prodigal son, who wastes his inheritance in riotous living. Upon hitting “rock bottom” and eating out of the feed for the pigs, he determines to return home, for he reasons, that even his father’s servants live better than he is living now. When the son does come back his first words to his father are, “I am no longer worthy to be called thy son.” And yet, the father rejoices and calls for the fatted calf and a feast. The moral: there is no need for such shame.
When a woman is brought to Christ who has been taken in adultery, and they say, “Moses in the law said such should be stoned, but what sayest thou?” Christ tells the pharisees and accusers, “Let him who is without sin cast a stone at her.” And he waits. The accusers leave and Christ, himself being sinless, says to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.” This is the antidote to shame: Love, Compassion, Connection. Shining a light on shame causes it to wither away. Shame grows in secrecy, judgement, and blame.
It cannot grow in the presence of courage, compassion, and connection.
In beautiful irony, it is in the ultimately vulnerable and shame inducing act of carrying His cross to crucifixion and then death by that means, that we believe that Jesus Christ was able to reconcile God and man and make atonement for sin and overcome the separating sting of death and shame. The ultimate gift of love. Repentance takes courage and brings us compassion and connection. For as in Adam all die, even so, in Christ shall all be made alive. And like Adam and Eve exclaimed, the joy of our redemption and eternal life is being in the flesh and again seeing and enjoying the presence of God. I know this to be true. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.