Sunday, August 9, 2015

Proverbs 25:27-28 -- On Honey and Walls

"It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls."
Proverbs 25:27-28

Earlier in this chapter (verse 16) it mentions honey as well... saying that if we find some honey, we shouldn't overdo it, or we'll get sick.  These verses kind of expand on that theme.  Seeking for glory and prominence is like overdoing it on sweets.  We'll get sick from it.  As suggested earlier in the chapter as well (verse 7), better to be humble and have others express how cool we are than to brag and have others put us in our place.
The idea of having no rule over our own spirits is an interesting one too.  Usually we think about this as brute-force willpower.  For example, chocolate cake (or something we like better) is placed in front of us, and we are drooling and we really want it, but we firmly say no and push it away.  This idea is very popular, but I think it also gets us into a lot of trouble because we're not solving the availability or the desire, and so it just keeps being in front of us until we give in.  God's conception is a little different, depending on what the temptation is.  Let's take his example of honey.  Usually honey isn't inherently evil.  God is okay with us having some, but we have to restrict ourselves to an amount that is good for us... that won't make us sick.  Brute force willpower says never, but still wants it.  God says moderation.  We can still have some, but we have to control ourselves and not have too much.  This idea of moderation is hard for us, because we live in a drama-filled society.  The images and messages we hear urge us to indulge in all the honey we want, or else never have honey, ever, because it is bad and probably causes cancer.  When God tells us we can have some, or tells us we need to only partake in the right circumstances, then we get confused because we're used to all-or-nothing thinking.  We reinforce these all or nothing messages to ourselves every day.  We say things like "I can't resist" and "I'm not good at that."  We have to be for or against, and if we're thinking about it or can see both sides, then we're sometimes looked down on as willing to compromise.
Now, for sure, not everything can be symbolically represented by honey.  There are some things that God is 100% no on.  For instance smoking.  He doesn't want us to do it (D&C 89:8) ever, not even a little.  But even then, sometimes we think too dramatically.  Because someone else smokes, should we shun them or castigate them?  No, clearly.  God wants us to love everyone.  So how do we rule our spirits, and deal with all of these decisions that God has given us, when the lines aren't always clear?

  1. First, when there is a line, let's stay far, far away from it.  Playing chicken with sin is definitely not ruling our spirits.  If something tempts us, we should stay away from it as we learn not to be tempted.  We don't need to learn brute-force willpower with everything.  We don't have to look it in the face and say no.  Learning not to desire something takes a long time, and practice most definitely does not make perfect when it comes to sin.  Let's do like Joseph did with Potiphar's wife instead, and run.
  2. Second, let's stop sending ourselves negative messages like we can't resist or we're bad at something.  Those are choices.  Instead of acting and talking like we aren't in charge, let's start remembering that we are.  Maybe we do have a problem resisting certain things, and maybe we are currently bad at whatever it is... but instead of saying it like it is an incurable medical condition, and is going to be true forever, let's make sure it won't be.  Let's start reading up, and praying our guts out, and find a way to change.
  3. Third, let's remember that part of baptism and conversion and the gospel is the opportunity to start fresh and new.  We are symbolically reborn when we are baptized, and that newness is part of the sacrament each week when we renew those promises with God.  We don't have to be tied down to who we used to be.  God offers us conversion, and we experience that mighty change of heart that it talks about in Alma 5.  Let's keep learning and changing and becoming more and more converted every day.
  4. Fourth, let's remember to love.  This does not negate the first item.  If hanging out with certain people puts us in the middle of temptation, then let's get *out* of that situation.  Maybe in that case we will have to show our love with a little bit more physical distance.  God doesn't say we have to hang out with everyone, or do what they do... just that we have to love them.  For some people we can show our love in person over a game of Scrabble.  Others, we need to show our love by using the like button on Facebook.  But in neither case should we hate or mock others.  Some people are going through trials that we don't understand, and maybe we can't understand why certain things are tempting to anyone,.. but even people who put their honey on disgusting chicken-flavored crackers are still sons and daughters of God, and deserving of our respect, and love.
  5. Fifth, let's set some appropriate boundaries for ourselves.  If we have a honey problem, then maybe we need to measure out how much we can have on our peanut butter and honey sandwich. :)  We need to stay within the bounds the Lord has set, so let's set some of our own.  If we can't have honey right now, let's not get those cute little honey bears out of the cupboard.  Let's not look at the coupons for honey in the newspaper.  Let's do something else... like, let me see.  Oh.  Read the scriptures. :)  Pray.  Read a book.  Play Scrabble.  ... I could keep going, but we get the idea.  It isn't like there aren't 9 billion things to do in the world besides think about honey.
  6. Sixth, let's remember Lot's wife (Luke 17:32).  When God asks us to walk away, let's not keep wanting it and turning around and trying to go back.  As mentioned in previous steps, we need to learn not to want it, and accept that mighty change of heart that God offers us... but we have to keep feeling it, every day.  We can't walk away and then keep regretting it, or else what was the good of walking away in the first place?  Lot's wife left the city to avoid destruction, but then she destroyed herself by turning back.  Let's not do the same thing.  If it is lust for power or glory that we are giving up, or excess food or extramarital sex, or smoking or drinking, or homosexuality, or gambling, or porn, or drugs, or pride, or *anything* at all.  Whatever the "honey" is that matters to us individually, let's not destroy ourselves by believing that we can change our actions but not our thoughts, our emotions... all of us.  In following God we commit to become new creatures, to take on *his* name.  Let's not fall back into being the old people that we don't want to be anymore.
Learning to rule our spirits gives us some defense against temptation, like rebuilding the walls of the city. :)  I'm not saying that my steps are foolproof, complete, or even in order.  They probably overlap a lot too, but they are just a place to start.  If we're failing at what we're trying right now, let's try something new.  And let's always, always, include God.  He knows what we're going through, and he knows how to help better than anyone else.  Let's talk to him, read his word and trust his gospel.

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