Zion and the Spirit of At-One-Ment
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. . . .
They were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
And how blessed were they! (4 Nephi 1:15—18)
How did the Nephites get to the heavenly Zion condition described in 4 Nephi? How do we learn to live the spirit of the "at-one-ment"? How do we bridge the gap between where we may now perceive ourselves to be spiritually and where we want and need to be as a society? Will the Lord do something magical to make us ready for his coming, to make us ready to build Zion, to enter at last into the kingdom of God? How do we get there from here? These are the important questions I would like to address in this presentation.
I would suggest that we have come to earth to learn the principles of peace and at-one-ment and to take them with us into the kingdom of heaven. We knew these principles in the premortal world; we lived them and learned how they worked. But we may have forgotten, in mortality, how the principles worked. Is it possible that our very possession of these principles is the evidence of our preparation to enter into the kingdom?
When we think how easily we may have traded the spirit of at-one-ment for discord, we see what a challenge it might be for us to live in a Zion or heavenly condition, where everyone will have learned, by desire and practice, to prefer the spirit of at-one-ment to conflict or discord.
What is the nature of the negative energy that leads to conflict around us? It is unrest, caused perhaps by trying to impose one's own will on others, or by criticism, anger, irritability, selfishness, failure to forgive, failure to revere another's agency, retaliation, moodiness, fear, worry, or by simply forgetting to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have probably all experimented with these negative attitudes in order to learn bitter and sweet. These are ways we all act, I think, until we learn that there is something better. And the better way is connected with this divine nature that you and I came to earth to get.
Of course, we all feel negative emotions sometimes, and occasionally they need to be expressed. But even when these negative energy emotions are fully justified, they can constitute a spiritual burden for us and those around us if they are indulged in too long. Our bad temper and bad moods can become a form of abuse for us and for those around us. Perhaps we have not fully processed the idea that peace is a vital state for the spirit to flourish in. We may not have realized the spiritual value of inner peace. The Lord, however, seems to value it highly and often invites us to live in peace. He has extended many such invitations in the Book of Mormon.
Mormon, for example, speaks to the "peaceable followers of Christ" who have entered into the rest of the Lord, whom he recognizes because of their "peaceable walk" with men (Moroni 7:3—4). Maybe peace has seemed like something that just happens if we are lucky; or it may seem like a luxury that we can sometimes live without. But learning to establish real inner peace is indispensable to spiritual progress.
The scriptures also call this peace rest in the Lord or God's rest. This rest or peace is the gift of a sweet feeling as well as insight from the Lord, and it cannot be experienced by positive thinking alone or by denial of negative feeling. It is a spiritual state initiated by us as we follow spiritual principles. For example, the Lord says, "Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls" (Alma 37:34).
Thus, as I have watched myself and others, it is sobering how readily we trade inner peace for something less, for some sort of upset. How readily we take offense and then escalate disturbance around us. How easily we have unsatisfied expectations of how others should treat us or what they should be doing for us; and we grow cold or irritable to retaliate for this real or imagined slight. How eagerly we may insist on being right at the expense of precious relationships. Thus keeping the water rippling around us with negative energy, we are often not at rest, or at peace, in the principles of tolerance and love, of overlooking, of letting go, of forgiving.
I have found that when I am not at peace inside, I make trouble around me. I even look for trouble—picking at this, complaining at that, practicing abuse on my loved ones. I may yield to self-pity, which causes me to withdraw, licking my wounds, waiting for someone to fix what is really my responsibility to fix inside myself. I think self-pity may be a sin, because it functions to violate the spirit of at-one-ment and the power of faith. I have asked myself how long I could last in Zion. How long would it be before I single-handedly dismantled Zion?
A Zion society is the product of the personal choice of every person in it. It is also a function of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which shapes hearts to be like his great heart. But first it begins with an individual choice that must become independent of other people's choices for something less.
Now, the Spirit of the Lord is the spirit of at-one-ment. It flows from the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to draw us to him and to each other. He invites us to synchronize our personal energies with his in all our relationships. And as we synchronize our energy, as we feel at peace with ourselves, with the Lord, and with each other, you and I have the divine power to generate, by an act of will, positive mental, physical, and spiritual energy by carefully choosing attitudes, actions, and words according to the teachings in the scriptures.
I have come to know that at any moment what I say is my choice, and I can't blame it on a situation or on another person. That personal responsibility is repeatedly made very clear in the Book of Mormon. For example, you will remember the words of Samuel the Lamanite:
And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.
He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14:30—31)
That is a one of many descriptions in the Book of Mormon of the powerful law of restoration. When we do choose to generate positive spiritual energy around us, which we have the power and the agency to do, the Spirit of the Lord is attracted to that positive energy, connects with it, and magnifies its power and influence for good. Thus, we learn to work as the Savior works and to become as he is, even as we walk in this life.
This divine power of at-one-ment seeks to work miracles by helping us to pull together in sweet, resonating relationships, thus we make poor relationships better and good relationships eternal. But we apparently have to understand some basic things first. We may have many misconceptions about how to be happy and how to establish relationships of at-one-ment with others. We may think that these relationships have to meet our own concept of the ideal. We may think that people have to feel and think the way we do in order to be happy with them, or that we have to think as they do in order to have the spirit of at-one-ment between us. We may feel that many of the people around us do not value what we do or do not fulfill our hopes and dreams. And we may despair that we will ever experience at-one-ment with some of the people that God has put into our lives. But I have learned that all the people that are in our lives are there for important reasons. Seldom are they given to us to satisfy us!
It was very important for me to learn that the people in my life are not given to me to satisfy me, necessarily. Rather, they are my teachers—unwittingly most of the time. We do not need ideal relationships to be happy. Our marriage does not have to be ideal, or our parenting does not have to be ideal, for us all to be happy in those relationships. We can live happily with less than ideal relationships; obviously we have to, because each relationship can be enriched with the spirit of at-one-ment that greatly improves the quality of our personal, emotional lives.
Now all of us have experienced, or are now experiencing, troubled relationships. I know from my own experience that miracles very often happen in relationships. I grew up in what the psychological world today calls a dysfunctional family. Each person in that family was and is a good person; they were good people with very little understanding, then, of how to be happy.
In my experience as a member of a troubled family, these are some of the things I learned to do without realizing I was learning them: I learned to try controlling other people, I learned to be critical in order to feel more secure in my own self-righteousness, and I learned to require satisfaction from others' behavior. I wanted certain responses from people, and if I didn't get them I was unhappy or angry. I learned to use anger as manipulation. I learned to be very self-assertive, to try to prove myself in every situation. I learned to make trouble by letting people know the various ways they were not meeting my expectations. I learned to use irritability, cold silences, and not-so-subtle barbed words to "get even." I learned to try to talk others into things, to make them what I wanted them to be, and these people came to feel like my enemies.
The result of this behavior was that I experienced a lot of unfocused fear in my life: I experienced depression, feelings of guilt about my inconsistent behavior, and a sense of meaninglessness in life. But here is one of the main points I want to make about establishing Zion. I did not see a relationship between the way I treated other people and the way I felt inside. I thought that what they were doing made me unhappy; but it was how I was reacting and what I was doing that made me unhappy. Much of the emotional pain that we have does not come from the love that we were not given in the past, but from the love we ourselves are not giving in the present. That principle could be of so much help to people who have come from abusive families, if they realized that part of getting well has to do with learning how to love now.
Nevertheless, the reality of telestial life is that nearly every day someone will do one or more of the following: belittle us, be insensitive to our needs, show indifference to us, make us feel insecure, humiliate us, frighten us, abuse us, inconvenience us, make demands of us, criticize us, disappoint us, lie to us, hurt us, betray us, try to seduce us, misunderstand us, resent us, threaten us, or attack us verbally or physically. But how are we ever going to learn Christlike love unless we have a chance to practice in the face of opposites! Every disrupted relationship, whether in our own homes or out in the marketplace, is a chance to forge the divine nature in us and prepare us for that endless day of happiness.
I am so grateful that the Lord has put examples of dysfunctional families and relationships into the Book of Mormon. Nephi, for example, received verbal and physical abuse from brothers who should have been his protectors and his nurturers. We see this paradox throughout our society—and much too much in the Church. How very relevant Nephi's experience is to many of us. On several occasions, Nephi was able to "frankly forgive" his brothers for their abusive treatment (1 Nephi 7:21), but by 2 Nephi 4, he faces the debilitating effects of his brothers' behavior towards him. He is angry, only he turns his anger inward and becomes deeply depressed. (Anger turned inward is a very common source of depression.)
Nephi is so depressed, in fact, that he exclaims, "O wretched man that I am!" (2 Nephi 4:17). These are the types of things you say when you are in a state of depression, and when you are very angry with someone, and when you no longer feel good about yourself. It seems that although his anger is one hundred percent justified, for his own spiritual well-being, Nephi must let go and heal his feelings of anger somehow. So he turns to the Lord. At a pivotal point in his "psalm," Nephi says:
Why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? . . . Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
Do not anger again. . . . Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord. . . .
[And then he says to the Lord:] Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? (2 Nephi 4:26—31)
Here Nephi teaches a powerful principle: We are not judged for what others do to us; we are judged by how we react to what they do to us, based on what we understand at the time. Our happiness is based on what we do, not so much on what was done to us.
We are not talking here about submitting to serious abuse, the serious physical and verbal abuse found in some families. These things require forgiveness, understanding, and compassion; but often it is very important for a person to remove himself or herself from that situation in order to survive.
Forgiving people, acting kindly toward them, doesn't necessarily mean letting them abuse us. Sometimes relationships have to be severed to keep one of the parties from being destroyed. In Nephi's case, in fact, the Lord finally took him out of Laman and Lemuel's presence. By 2 Nephi 5, he is told to pack up his things and go and find another place to live with his family.
But Nephi waited on the Lord, teaching us that revelation is absolutely indispensable in working with relationships. When we are in relationship trouble, we need to draw very close to the Lord and counsel with him as best we can. Alma 37:37 admonishes: "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings"—even if we do not think of ourselves as spiritually qualified, which often occurs when we are in emotionally troubled circumstances and in troubled relationships. The Book of Mormon teaches us over and over again that even if we feel inadequate spiritually, if we will just come to the Lord Jesus Christ in humility, he can take even our worst messes, even the ones we ourselves have made, and make them work to our benefit and healing and blessing.
Alma taught this precious principle to his son Shiblon: "And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 38:5). We trust God to a degree, and to that degree he will deliver us. The greater our trust, the more complete the deliverance, whatever form that deliverance needs to take.
I would like to offer one additional idea here. We cannot know, or remember, until the Lord reveals it, what we covenanted to do in the premortal world with respect to a particular relationship here. It is clear that in the premortal world many of us entered into relationships that the Lord, through his power, re-formed again here on the earth. We do not remember what the nature of those relationships was in the premortal world. Many of your patriarchal blessings may refer to the fact that you were born into families that you chose to be born into because of relationships developed in the premortal world. Some of my children have been told that in their blessings. Perhaps in the premortal world we covenanted to make certain sacrifices in order to be with certain people in this world, people whom it would not be easy for us to be with, so that by trying to work through our problems with them, we would learn the very things that we most needed to learn in this mortal experience.
In some cases the Lord will take us out of a relationship or counsel us to take ourselves out; but very often he will set about to work a small series of miracles in the relationship, so that the spirit of at-one-ment can flourish in us and with us, as it does in heaven. He is trying to teach us to live in a celestial society and to master the principles that govern such a society. Therefore, it seems that usually he wants us to mend rather than sever relationships. But each experience has its lessons, and when we depend on him and cleave to him, he will lead all who are willing out of the mess, the wiser for having been through the experience.
I would like to talk about the word at-one-ment, since we have been using it so much. The word at-one-ment (as many of you may know) came into the English language in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when early translators, like William Tyndale and Wycliffe, were translating the ancient scriptures into the English language. As they came across the word reconcile or similar words, they made up a new word. Instead of using the word to reconcile, which they did in some places, they used the word to at-one something—to bring estranged and alienated things into a state of at-one-ment, so they meshing with each other and are, reconcilediation with each other. The word reconcile has neithera Greek root, nor a Latin root, and it really means to bring things into a state of at-one-ment, so they mesh with each other and are reconciled. The word reconcile has neither a Greek root, nor a Latin root, and it really means to bring things into a state of at-one-ment. Christ wrought the great at-one-ment to bring that which was fallen and alienated, scattered, spiritually dead, and miserable out of that condition and back into the kind of eternal, concordant relationships shared in premortal life. The scriptures talk again and again about restoring us to that harmonious relationship with God, the implication being that we had it before we came, both with each other and with him.
At-one-ment in Hebrew is kaphar, as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Kaphar means "to forgive," "to cover," or "to have a close embrace with," as related to our word caftan, which is an ankle-length garment that fully encircles and embraces the body.1 The image of the atonement is of being encircled in or by something—for example, being encircled in the arms of the Lord. Many Book of Mormon passages speak of being embraced or encircled in the arms of the Lord, of this great image of at-one-ment. For example, Lehi declares: "The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Nephi 1:15). And in Alma 5:33, we read: "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you."
The idea of embrace is inseparably tied to the idea of atonement and should lead us to think, perhaps, about the temple as well. At-one-ment is clearly another word for sealing. There is no ultimate embrace without obedience to temple ordinances of sealing, endowment, and temple marriage. I think marriage itself is such a beautiful example of at-one-ment. Adam says, "This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh" (Moses 3:23—24). "Cleave" and "one" are at-one-ment. The Holy of Holies in the temple is called in Hebrew the beit hakapparet, the house or room of the embrace (or the at-one-ment), the place where the presence of God is. The great at-one-ment, then, is wrought as we progressively seal ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ and to our loved ones.
The concept of at-one-ment, bringing things that are dead, estranged, and scattered together in one, is a concept that permeates all of our scripture; even if you have noticed it before, you may now notice it more. For example, the Savior says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32; cf. 3 Nephi 27:14—15). So, it means to bring, as I said before, alienated, miserable, fallen beings back into harmony and life and resonance with each other and with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord seems to want us to understand that it is possible to have a state of at-one-ment now. He says, in the 3 Nephi 13:10, that things must be done on earth as they are done in heaven, so that that which is earthly may be made heavenly; that which does not try to be heavenly must remain telestial or terrestrial and cannot be made heavenly or celestial. At-one-ment, then, is the condition in which heavenly beings live. If we want to live there with them, we have to practice, here and now, the manner of emotional and spiritual life that they live and that they teach us to live. "This life," Amulek says, "is the time for men to prepare to meet God" (Alma 34:32). We want to think through how to live the spirit of at-one-ment, and bring it to pass in whatever way we can on the earth.
In Doctrine and Covenants 27:13, the Lord says: "I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth" (italics added). All things seems to be mostly people. In this dispensation the Lord has said:
But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, . . . and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;
And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom.
[And then he says so powerfully:] And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom. (D&C 105:3—5)
If you think about it, you can see at-one-ment taking place at many levels in the Church. Our missionaries go out to bring that which is scattered and alienated back into oneness, into Zion communities; we do the same thing with our visiting and our home teaching. We go to the temple and we seal our families into at-one-ment chains. Men and women come and are at-one or sealed in the temple through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are so many scriptural words for at-one-ment: oneness, in one, unity, united, order, united order, gathering, equal, cleaving, sealing, welding, linking, embracing; even resurrection itself is an at-one-ment word—it is bringing the body and the spirit back into a permanent state of oneness. The temple endowment is itself a progressive sealing of ourselves to the Lord until we are clasped in the arms of Jesus. In the temple, in fact, the effectiveness of special prayer is absolutely facilitated by feelings of love. So we see that at-one-ment work is temporal, emotional, and spiritual, and the more we engage in it, the more we establish the Spirit of Zion.
As we grow spiritually, our feeling about life is influenced by how we act and even feel toward others; that is, we truly reap what we send out. Alma 41:15 is one of the best statements of this law of restoration: "For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored" unto you. This teaches us that if we don't like what we are getting out of a particular close relationship, we may have to check what it is that we are sending into that relationship.
We probably also have to realize at some point that thoughts and feelings have energy of their own, and they travel from their origin to affect people and things outside the originator—but mostly they affect the person with whom they originated. Thoughts are probably a rudimentary form of the power of creation that you and I will have in the hereafter. The more we are able to control and discipline our thinking here (as the scriptures speak a good deal about), the greater power we will have to create the things we want around us.
What happens to us enters our systems as energy and takes effect through our energy systems, but what we send out in response seems to have a much more powerful effect on us. For example, perhaps someone trespasses against you, and you feel this negative ripple through your system, and you face the moment of decision. Are you consciously aware of that moment of decision? You have the power either to neutralize the assault on you and return love for what happened or to let it flow out of you in intensified negative waves, increasing the bad situation. My happiness, my possession of the Lord's Spirit, depends on what I decide, from many options, to do.
The Lord talks about this in D&C 64:8—10, saying:
My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. [Just by the law of restoration, I suppose, as they were afflicting each other and vying for positions of power in the quorum, the law of restoration afflicted them and they felt chastened.]
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
This forgiveness really diminishes the responsibility that you and I carry around. We do not have to judge other people or get vengeance for what they do, or teach them a lesson. The Lord has not given us the power to do this. He has asked us to forgive and to return love insofar as the situation allows us to do so. The Lord does not mean that we do not take legal steps when necessary. When one's behavior jeopardizes one's membership in the Church or is a breach of civil law, the person must be brought to justice, for his or her good and for the good of all concerned.
This giving love where love is not deserved is one meaning in the scriptures of the phrase grace for grace, which shows up again and again but is never fully explained in the scriptures, as far as I know. This is a significant key to living the spirit of at-one-ment. In Helaman 12:24 Mormon writes: "And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works." Similarly, in D&C 93:12—13 and 20, we read:
I, John, saw that he [Christ] received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; . . .
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (Emphasis added)
This means that as the Father gave Jesus grace (i.e., divine power and blessings) for the grace that Jesus gave us, Christ gives us grace for the grace that we give to others. So, if we are going to learn to be like Christ, we must learn how to do what he does. He gives grace to us totally, which in most cases, as King Benjamin says, is unearned by us. Thus, how precious are all our opportunities to give unearned kindness and blessings to those around us, helping us understand the mind and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can see how the law of restoration is really a form of this law of grace for grace. We give out grace, and grace is restored to us in the form of feelings of wholeness, health, and the richness of life, by which we develop our divine natures. For example, by way of application, Terry Warner asked, "What would happen if we dropped all charges against those around us and, for their sakes, happily sacrificed all bitter satisfaction, all retribution, all demand for repayment, all vengeance without regret or second thoughts?" This kind of behavior, living in the at-one and forgiving mode, is of real kindness to ourselves.
What are the effects on me of generating this positive energy? It is becoming clear to me that the Book of Mormon describes a series of spiritual principles and laws, and that we are either the victims of those laws, or we are able to make those laws work for us. The more principles and laws we identify, and the more we make work for us, the more we accomplish the purposes for which we came to earth; that is, we learn how God works and how to work as he does. The law of restoration is one of those laws. We have the power to make that work for us every time we open our mouths, every time we think or act. What I like about this power to generate positive energy is that I can make the law of restoration work for me; and I can give it nothing to use against me—that is, if I were able to live perfectly! Fortunately, the law of repentance makes it possible to cancel those things that I am not able to do perfectly.
The second thing I have noticed about practicing this positive energy is that it gives me confidence in the Lord when I pray, because I guess I feel the sense of the Lord giving me grace for having given grace. I can pray with more faith when I am actively trying to generate positive energy in the relationships with the people around me.
And there is a third benefit that I have identified: Instead of making me feel as though I am a victim of what people do to me, or a victim of my environment, practicing positive energy gives me a sense of righteous dominion over my environment. That is, I can use my love, and my faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit given to me by priesthood authority to choose who I want to be, what I want to be, how I want to act, and I can have an influence for good on those around me.
Joseph Smith said some wonderful things about this. He said that it is "by union of feeling [that] we obtain power with God."2 Every husband and wife knows that. Every missionary companion knows that. When we pool this positive energy, let go of our own personal ego agendas, and are much more interested in meshing with each other for higher purposes, we realize that we do tap a power of God.
The Prophet also said, "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind."3 Then he said, "It is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. . . . If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another."4 So whenever I have an encounter with any person I can generate the spirit of the at-one-ment through listening to him or her with empathy, offering encouragement, and feeling for the Spirit of the Lord and invoking that Spirit in my own mind. I can influence the atmosphere I live in.
There is an additional principle that I want to add briefly; it is the concept of divine independence. That is, some people are in family relationships that are bound together in bonds of anguish, not bonds of love, because they do not realize where their responsibility ends. Such people do not realize they are not responsible for what any other person does—not their spouse, or their children, or anybody else. If they are doing what is right, the Lord will not hold them responsible for what others do. Therefore, why do they hold themselves responsible?
It is such a blessing to be able to detach from another person whose behavior we do not like, or are afraid of even, and not feel responsible for it. We often connect in the wrong ways because we feel responsible for each other, but we are not. One who wishes to enter into at-one-ment, must, in this instance, first learn a special detachment from others. This detachment produces inner serenity which is based on understanding this truth: I am not responsible for what any other human being chooses to do, no matter how many mistakes I may have made with that person. God holds me responsible only for what I do, not for what my children, and my husband, and my neighbor do. I am liberated by this truth; I can stand independent in this sphere in which I was created to act and not to be acted upon.
In closing then, if we absolutely knew that the Lord would send his Spirit anytime we generated positive feeling through thoughts, words, and actions, why would we ever choose to generate something else? Would it be an overstatement, I wonder, to say that during our waking hours we are either generating negative or positive energy? I don't know if there is something in between.
God works through positive feelings that we have the agency and power to generate and multiply. His presence and Spirit are attracted to the positive energy and repelled by the negative energy we generate. But again, we have personal responsibility. God cannot practice it for us; we have to practice it ourselves. And so he says, "Strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings" (D&C 108:7).
After I had shared some of this material with a group on one occassion, a woman came up afterwards and said to me, "There is something missing in the material that you have just presented, and if you are going to continue to present this to people you need to have this additional idea." She said she knows a woman who has an air of marvelous serenity around her. Many people have asked this woman, "How is it that you are able to have this wonderful air about you?" She said that it went back to an experience she had when she was sixteen years old and living in a very troubled family, a family in which there was alcoholism and other kinds of abuse. At sixteen she was bound in bonds of anguish to the members of her family. She was trying so hard to make peace in this family. She felt responsible for what everybody in the family was doing and was turning herself inside out trying to manipulate things, by not talking about the problems and by lying about them, to try to keep superficial peace in the family. But it seemed like no matter what she did, everybody was colluding against her.
She got very, very sick (with scarlet fever, I think) and had a near-death experience. During this experience, the Savior said to her that she was not responsible for what her mother, or her father, or her sisters, or her brothers did, that he only wanted her to take care of herself, to pay attention to her own lessons. She could love and give to those around her, but she was told not to be filled with anxiety and despair when others did not respond the way she wanted them to. She was told to leave them to the Lord and to get on with the business of living her own life according to the principles that the Lord had taught her.
This spiritual experience was tremendously liberating for her. Even though the Lord wants us to form relationships with others that are resonant and sweet, there is an inner part of us that must remain independent of what others choose to do; otherwise, we grieve too much over things that we have no power to change, and that alienates us from the Lord and decreases the blessing in our lives.
Every parent knows grief over a child who may not be doing what the parent wants. Ultimately, so that grief doesn't tyrannize us and keep us from the Spirit of the Lord, after we have done all that we can do, we have to let that child go and let the Lord be the Savior for that child, which he has promised to do.
When we live in patience, love, and peace with each other, interacting with those around us, not resisting but supporting and forgiving each other, speaking the words that evoke the Spirit, encouraging the positive that is in every person we know, no matter what his or her weaknesses are, we live the spirit of at-one-ment with each other. The more we make each relationship sweeter and more tender and dear, the more we live at-one-ment. The more we lay down pride and old checklists of hurts and grievances, the more we send out healing, the more our relationships heal. We have to practice at-one-ment so that we will know how to act, should we make it into heaven. I say these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Hugh W. Nibley, Approaching Zion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989) 556—62, 566—8 for a fuller discussion of the meaning of the word at-one-ment .
2. Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 5:23.
4. Ibid., 24.