Friday, March 7, 2014

Burying Bad Habits for Good!

Have you ever kicked a bad habit only to slip right back into it again?

I read this story that demonstrated how we can kick bad habits for good.  It’s not a fast easy fix.  It’s hard but it is possible.

The story is from Alma chapter 24 in the Book of Mormon.  It takes place between 90 and 77 B.C.  During these years the Lamanites were a group of people who basically interacted with others in Survival of the Fittest Living.  If a person had more power and strength than another and things didn’t go his way, he would have no problem killing people.  The life of a fellow human being was not valued.  They would steal from each other or snuff each other out with very little cause.  There were no laws to prevent this from happening.  So in general, they were a me-first driven people.  And this was habitual.  It was not just in a few people.  This was a society-wide habit.  They were murderers in their hearts.  And much of this was because of their ignorance of any better way to live.

But in Alma, chapter 17 (around 90 B.C.), a group of missionaries came over from the Nephites (another group of people living in a different nation or country) to teach the Lamanites about God—Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  They basically explained why Survival of the Fittest Living was not good for them individually or as a group and taught them how Paradoxical Living was much better.

Paradoxical Living in a Nutshell
Instead of reacting to other people’s Imbalanced behavior by retaliating--hurting or killing them (with words, behaviors, or weapons) when things don’t go our way, we are to respond in Balance.  We bear one another’s burdens, endure other people’s bad behavior, whether it is purposefully done to us or not.   We continue doing good to others even if they don’t do good to us.  And we do this with the knowledge that what we do unto others will be done unto us.  It may not necessarily be done unto us by our enemies or even our friends but it will be done unto us somehow someway.  God (our General Cause) makes sure of that.   

Yet we are required to let go of our life.  It may turn out that we do indeed get injured or even die.  But the crux of the situation is that this physical--temporal life and all its rewards is not the only life we have to live for.  We are also living for an eternal life—one that’s going on now and continues to go on after we die.  And we feel this life in our souls.  It is the Joy we feel inside of us despite all the chaos going on around us (John 14:27).  How we respond to our trials and other people’s imbalanced behavior in this physical-temporal life determines how amazing that eternal life—that Joy is and will be forever. 

This is so paradoxical because it seems like we are losing in this physical-temporal life where things are readily seen and known.  The Paradox is:

Mark 8

Listen: "Losing" by Tenth Avenue North

So these Nephite missionaries taught the Lamanites about the Gospel—this Paradoxical Living.  And it's interesting that they actually practiced what they preached in crossing the boarder into their land.  It was a dangerous task as the Nephites and Lamanites had been mortal enemies for over 500 years.  

But miracles happened.  Many of the Lamanites actually believed them!  They were introduced to this better world—this eternal world for the first time.  And for the first time they felt it!  And it completely overwhelmed them.  They never knew it existed before and suddenly it dawned upon them like the brightest spring morning after a dark stormy winter.  Joy entered their souls so profoundly and completely that their hearts were changed in a very short period of time.  Many people went from being murderers to being children of Christ.  The contrast was stark, especially to them.  They looked upon their past choices, the bad habits and attendant sorrow in which they had resided and never wanted to return.  They didn’t even know they were living in sorrow before.  They only recognized it once they tasted the Joy of this eternal world.  Thus they didn’t ever want to touch that kind of Survival of the Fittest behavior again. 

1 Nephi 21:24-25
But if we have lived in Survival of the Fittest for our whole life, even if our heart is changed we still have to work not to yield to those old habits.  They are instinctive.  They were taught to us from birth or since we were kids.  When a Process is repeated over time and sustained by an Effect, whether it be Balanced or Imbalanced, habits form and solidify.  Resultant habits.  And the bad ones are like ruts, pits, traps, prisons that prevent us from ever feeling that eternal life that comes so easily when we live Paradoxically. 

The Lamanites described these bad habits as stains.  Once we get a stain on our clothes, it does not come out in the wash like regular dirt does.  Stains require careful treatment, special chemicals, scrubbing, bleach.  And once they’re out, we are extra careful not to get them again.

There were many Lamanites who converted.  They changed their names from Lamanites to Anti-Nephi-Lehies.  But the Lamanites that had not converted turned upon this new group in Survival of the Fittest behavior (like an auto-immune disease).  They prepared for war.  Their Desire?  To kill all these people for what they believed in.
And this is where the crucial conjunction is presented to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.  Do they take up their swords again to save their own lives?  Or do they keep their commitment to never kill again?

This is what they decide:

Alma 24

So they buried their bad habits and never engaged in them again even to protect their own lives (to read the whole story see Alma 24). 

Alma 46:11-13 and 43:45-47
Now here’s the key:  Defending home, family, freedom of a nation is not evil.  It’s a good thing.  But these people recognized that they had the habit of killing for selfish reasons in the past.  It wasn’t for their wives, children, and rights to liberty.  They recognized the bad habit created a weakness in them where they could have been strong.  Even if they tried to engage in it for the RIGHT reasons, they very likely would have slipped back into the old Survival of the Fittest reasons.  So even at the expense of their own lives, they chose not to re-engage in the behavior.

My Conclusions to this Story
There is mercy.  We can repent.  But if we continuously engage in a behavior over an extended period of time enough so it becomes a bad habit, getting out isn’t going to be easy.  It is possible but there are eternal costs even to us.  If we’re going to repent, we can’t be a wimp about it.  It is going to require us to live a higher law.  We’re going to have to step it up, sacrifice at a higher level AND humble ourselves to depend upon other people.  It is just the way that it is.

Open-Heart Surgery
Matthew 18:8-9
What makes a behavior bad is when we do it for Survival reasons:  Me-First.  Selfishness.  Now this doesn’t mean we don’t have needs and desires.  We do!  It means there are two different ways to obtain them.  Survival or Paradoxical Living.  One promotes selfishness in ourselves and in our community.  The other promotes love for others in ourselves and in our community.  The first is finite—not sustainable.  The second is infinite—sustainable.

Listen:  "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor
What makes a behavior good is when we do it for Paradoxical reasons:  others first.  Empathy.  When we seek to help others obtain their desires first it doesn’t exclude us from obtaining ours.  We will!  We get the good stuff.  We are taken care of. 

If we have engaged in a behavior long enough for selfish reasons, we won’t be able to engage in the same behavior for empathetic reasons without slipping back into the ruts of selfishness.  At least not for a long time.  If the bad habit is closely associated with a life-sustaining need, it is going to be even more difficult to undo.

If we have gone about obtaining an inherent life-sustaining need in selfish ways for an extended period of time, the only way we are ever going to get out of this kind of prison is surgery!  Spiritual surgery is what we are doing RIGHT NOW, in every blog post I write, and in every Servant video I create.  We are dissecting the variables of the soul.  In this post we are operating on:  what makes a habit bad and what makes it good.  Once we know this, we understand how we can eventually re-engage in the life-sustaining behavior.  It can only ever be done empathetically—with the intent to benefit someone else, not ourselves.  In the end we will be benefited.  Our needs will be met but we need to develop the mind-muscle, the faith, to the point that our thinking and behavior in all things is Paradoxical, never Survival.

Spiritual Surgery = Imparting the Word of God