Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alma 39:7-9 -- On Sins, Desires, and Self-Mastery

"And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.
But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things."
Alma 39:7-9

This is part of a conversation that Alma had with his son Corianton about some of the sins that he had committed.  Now, this kind of talk I am sure that neither of them enjoyed or really wanted to have, but it needed to happen, and apparently, since it is in the scriptures, we also needed to hear it.

A couple of things strike me here.  The first is that harrowing up our souls is sometimes for our good.  This is something that Alma probably knew intimately, after having an angel call him to repentance.  God doesn't use guilt-trips in a manipulative or slimy way, to get us to obey just because we feel obligated... but natural guilt for things that we feel legitimate remorse for and areas where we know that we have harmed others... that feeling of not wanting to do that or be that person anymore... that kind of guilt can prompt us to change our lives and be better people.  It is good for us because it reminds us of who we never want to be again, and how important it is to change and to get help from God.

Another thing that strikes me is the idea of crossing ourselves, or learning to master our desires.  Sometimes we have to say no... even to ourselves.  This can be difficult, especially if we aren't used to it.  Sometimes we think we can, and should, have everything we want.  It takes time and often-painful experience to learn that giving in to all of our desires doesn't lead to good places.  We can develop addictions and bad habits that can harm our bodies, and some that can harm our souls as well.  God tries to help us by telling us all of this ahead of time, so that we don't have to suffer from learning the hard way.  Too often, we don't listen.

Sometimes our desires seem harmless... to put off cleaning the house for another week, or to have an extra ice cream cone, and sometimes serious, as with addictive drugs and (as in Corianton's case) sexual sins.  In all cases though, practicing self-mastery, and reminding ourselves that we have limits just like we place limits on children's behavior, will help us learn to control ourselves, get things done, and keep ourselves free of regret.

None of this is easy.  By definition, we want what we want, and we don't just automatically stop wanting it even when we say no to ourselves.  Repentance is really hard because we not only have to stop making that choice, but we eventually have to learn to not want to make those choices anymore.  This is where God helps us.  He can change our hearts, and take away the desire to do evil, or even when it doesn't seem evil, he can help us to be motivated or to stop when it is healthy to stop.

Despite the difficulty, just like little kids need to learn not to act out and have tantrums, we need to learn to control our desires... to not charge our credit cards to the max for things that we don't really need, to not live exclusively on cake and ice cream, to do the things that will help us, and avoid the things that will harm us.  Today, let's allow our souls to be harrowed up for good if necessary.  Let's repent as needed, and let's change our ways.  Let's learn to manage our desires, avoid temptation, and get help from God to be able to find peace and change into better people. :)

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