The more time I spend with my energetic toddlers, the more I suspect that motherhood is part of our path of discipleship because it helps teach us to be like our Father (who deals with our spiritual toddlerhood.) I found that even the messes they make have become my tutor.
It was late in the afternoon, the sun was shining amidst the rain clouds, and I was finally getting around to cleaning the food beneath my toddlers’ high chairs from lunch. I grabbed the dust pan and began sweeping the remnants of a turkey sandwich. But then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye: an ant, walking towards a piece of bread. Dang it! Then I saw his friend close by nibbling away at a piece of turkey.
Oh no! Ants in the house. The rain we had that day was a factor, (as it often brings insects inside) but so had been my laziness in not cleaning up sooner, giving them an extra incentive to come snack, away from the rain.
I quickly swept up the food and grabbed a cleaner to really disinfect the floors and then sprayed an insecticide where I suspected the ants had come from.
Phew! They were gone and they weren’t coming back.
Or so I thought.
A few days later, my lack of vigilance in cleaning hit me where it hurt. More ants showed up to feast on my toddlers’ leftovers, and they seemed to multiply faster this time. They had their in, and now they knew where the goods were. They knew my weakness. And I had continued to not take this weakness seriously, nor the damage it could cause. I had thought my cleaning was sufficient enough to keep them away. I am reminded of a caution from Elder Neal A. Maxwell.
The pride of my own cleaning effort was blinding my to the potential problems that lay ahead.
Whatever it’s momentary and alluring guise, pride is the enemy…. [for] pride is in all our sins.”“Meek and Lowly of Heart” BYU Speeches, October 21, 1986
I am embarrassed to share how many more times those ants showed up before I realized something really needed to change. But it can be so easy to think: “well, now I just have ants.” Or “I’ll clean up after them, do what I can, and hope for the best.” Or even that if I did clean, they would still show up, so why clean? I even justified more mess after the first time. It was easy to say that my kids were messy and I couldn’t control them. I also couldn’t control the ants. So I did the minimum. And every few days I would think I had done enough, and they would come back. One morning I was particularly embarrassed and opted to vacuum them up, in an effort to get them out quickly, before my husband saw.
That was when I saw my life had become unmanageable (to borrow a line from the AA handbook). What I was doing was not working. And I was letting my ants control my actions, rather than being an active participant in my own life. I had even let myself be more messy, because it seemed anything I did was not working, so why would I try?!
So is the story with sin.
Sometimes we sin out of laziness. Sometimes it falls into our laps. And sometimes, we let it in—unaware of the impact it will have on ourselves and those around us. Sometimes we create a perfect environment for sin to enter our lives. And sometimes we don’t yet have the skills to rid ourselves of our own sinful “toddler messes” and “hungry ants.”
I hid the ants from my husband because I felt embarrassed.
It seemed the more the ants came, the more lost I felt about being able to stop them on my own. It was lonely trying to do that on my own—and defeating when they continued to come back.
So can the loneliness and shame of sin be, too.
But we do not have to do it alone. When I realized my husband would help me and not make me feel worse, I felt relieved. So it is the same with sin and repentance. We are not alone. We have our Savior Jesus Christ. And he has the perfect pest removal service!
Do you know what my husband suggested?
We must be more vigilant about cleaning up. And we have to have an attitude of diligence in keeping the floors clean. We must prevent the ants from having a reason to come back.
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”Exodus 15:26
Diligence can be a daunting commandment, but being a disciple is a life-long pursuit, not just a one-time commitment. We have to choose God every day. Choose love every day. And choose faith ever day. And most of all, choose humility in repentance every day. (For more about how I have embraced daily repentance, see my article here, which is also related to messy toddlers.)
Admitting to the mess you have made to God or man can be terrifying. But admitting defeat sounded just as terrifying to me. When we confess our sins and ask for help, we do not admit defeat, but rather testify of the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ and the power He can grant us. He is our victor over both physical and spiritual death. He is our Savior from any plague, both physical and spiritual.
Sin is a slippery slope, especially when we have a casual attitude. When we brush off things we should be taking more seriously, the Adversary has more ways in which to enter our lives through our vulnerabilities. Casualness and light-mindedness can seem small things, but they are small enough to create bigger problems down the road. The Adversary is fighting this war for our souls very hard and we must recognize that, or fall prey to the world’s view that “all is well in Zion” (See 2 Nephi 28:21, The Book of Mormon).
Elder David A. Bednar counseled us wisely in October of three ways we can be more vigilant when standing against sin and temptations.
1. Beware of Evil’s Beguiling Disguises
So often it can be easy to justify something because it may help another, or use a shortcut in the name of progress. But a cut corner or an improper action is just the door the Adversary needs to slowly tempt us to deeper and more serious sins. One lie can be the first step in many.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”Isaiah 5:20
2. Stay Awake and be Alert
Constant vigilance is required to counteract complacency and casualness. To be vigilant is the state or action of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. And keeping watch denotes the act of staying awake to guard and protect. Spiritually speaking, we need to stay awake and be alert to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the signals that come from the Lord’s watchmen on the towers.”Elder David A. Bednar
So often it can be easy to want to guard and protect ourselves from physical harm, but what about spiritual harm? Elder Bednar suggests that both listening to the Holy Ghost and prayer are our main weapons against getting caught in the traps of the Adversary. We must protect what we value most: our faith and our families—for these are the things he seeks to destroy most.
3. Understand the Intent of the Enemy
One of the ultimate ironies of eternity is that the adversary, who is miserable precisely because he has no physical body, invites and entices us to share in his misery through the improper use of our bodies. The very tool he does not have and cannot use is thus the primary target of his attempts to lure us to physical and spiritual destruction.”Elder David A. Bednar
In a world that sees our value in the shape or size of our body, we must stand up for its true eternal and sacred value. Satan tempts us through the misuse of our bodies, to eat what we shouldn’t, to drink what we shouldn’t and to love the way we shouldn’t. Our bodies are powerful, and if we do not treat them with the love and respect they deserve, they can be subject to the powers of the Adversary as well as our own casualness. The spiritual decay we bring when we are casual, rather than careful and diligent, can be very serious.
In my study of 1 Peter chapter one, I came across verses 13-16:
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts of your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”1 Peter 1:13-16
We are asked to be holy, to not be ignorant, to have holy conversations, to call on Jesus Christ, and to be sober. In our day, sober has taken on a singular meaning of not bring drunk. After further study, I found a very helpful definition.
Sober: Earnest and serious in assessing your circumstances and careful and circumspect in weighing the consequences of your actions. Soberness yields good judgment as well as good conduct.James J. Hamula
We must be measured and look forward to truly understand the consequences of our actions before we act. To understand soberness, is also to understand its opposite: levity.
Levity: Humor or frivolity, especially in treatment of a serious matter. With humor in the manner lacking the due respect. Lightness of mind, character or behavior. Excess of unseemly frivolity. Lack of steadiness. Laughter. Light-minded.Topical Guide or Dictionary.com
Gone are the days, when we can lightly dismiss something with the wave of a hand. “Oh it will be fine, it is just one ant.” When we dismiss something small that could lead to the contamination of our lives with sin, we do not give due respect to the mission God has gives us. We are “the light of the world.” We are “the salt of the earth.” But if our salt has lost its savour because it has been contaminated by sin, levity or lack of respect, we will “[lose] our savour.. and [are] good for nothing.” (See Matthew 5:13,14)
One ant is fine, right? It won’t make a difference… No! That is not the way the Adversary sees it. He sees that small and simple bad thing as a gateway to create more spiritual decay in our lives, which can become great.
I really hate ants. But I let them continue to come into my home because I was embarrassed, lacked the proper tools and systems to prevent them coming in, and because I thought I had to fight them on my own. But as soon as I had my husband on my side, we figured it out together.
We don’t often set out to sin, but it happens. I think we all want to have clean hands and pure hearts, but most often we do not. We all have different weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities. We all have aspects of the gospel that confuse, frustrate or elude us. But we also all have access to one of the most powerful resources in the universe: We have our Savior Jesus Christ. Who can not only rid my home of ants, but also my heart of rebellion, sin, or casualness. Gird up the loins of your mind and be sober, understanding what possibilities lie in front of us, because He has the power to change us.
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”Isaiah 1:18
Jesus Christ can not only give us the tools we need to remove the ants of our lives, but also give us access to His power as we continue to safeguard our hearts, homes and relationships from the attacks of the Adversary and the spiritual decay he offers. Just the same way that I let my mess become worse from the defeat I felt from the ants, so can the joy be the same in repentance. Rather than carry on the pattern of sin and uncleanliness, repentance carries on the pattern of cleanliness and wholeness. The more we do something, the more we want to do more of it, messy or clean, right or wrong. Which do you want to do more of?
We do live in a mortal world where moral and spiritual decay are a reality. But we also live in a world with access to the Holy Ghost to guide us and we have prayer to strengthen us. So next time you see your weaknesses making room for the attacks of the Adversary, remember that we have the best partner we could ask for: a God who has transcended the mortal world in order to teach us to become stronger, to reach for the kingdom of God—a place that knows no decay and no death. Choose repentance. Choose soberness. Choose cleanliness. Choose diligence. And Choose Christ.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”Alma 40:12
Featured image from amomentwithchrist.com