I’m perhaps dipping my toe into a pool of controversy, but I’m going to try to express some thoughts I’ve had amidst all the reaction to President Packer’s recent conference talk.  First of all, many people have assumed that he was referring to a single issue (homosexuality), when a more careful study reveals that he was addressing many and any of the plagues that men and women struggle with.  He acknowledges that they are tragically difficult and promises that the power of the priesthood can help God’s children find their way out of dark places.

I believe the underlying message (not only of his talk, but of Heavenly Father’s plan for us) is self-mastery . . . with God’s help.

Our eternal destiny as children of God is an immense and incomprehensible concept, but I think it can be simply wrapped up in 1.) our sanctification through the blood of Jesus Christ and 2.) our roles in eternal families.  Jesus Christ and family (which by default, includes marriage) are key elements of our exaltation.  God has given us both commandments and covenants as guideposts toward all the blessings that both can offer us.

Therefore, it seems obvious that some of the greatest challenges we face in our life are temptations designed to remove us from the Spirit of Christ and distance us from righteous family relationships.  We are human– spirits in temporal bodies– and we “naturally” have desires, urges, impulses, laziness, etc. that make it easy for us to give into temptation and ignore commandments and covenants.  Unfortunately, for this reason, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)”

A basic restatement of “putteth off the natural man” is to resist the temptations and desires that take us away from God, and “becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ” is simply a reminder to repent, be forgiven and recommit.

The natural man is something we’re born with (it’s part of mortal experience), but so is the ability to overcome it.  There is no inborn automatic, uncontrollable surrender to temptation.  There is, however, an inborn spirit child of God with a remarkable power of agency.

The invitations of the natural man are many, and are often tailored to individuals:

substance abuse
obsession with distractions (pop culture, computers, gaming, motorcycles, other hobbies, etc.)
and the list goes on…

What makes me uncomfortable about all the lashing out regarding the homosexuality issue is that it completely diminishes the struggle that every single person is trying to make to overcome their temptations of the natural man.  There are married men who look away when scantily-clad women walk past on the sidewalk.  There are single men who turn off the computer when they feel tempted to look at pornography, and they exert themselves greatly to keep their thoughts clean.  There are women who struggle to overcome alcoholism and dig deep to find the strength to do what’s right when they really, really want to take a drink.  There are single adults, both male and female, who resist sexual advances because, even though they would love to feel loved, they believe in and live by the law of chastity.  Others do not marry because they are not presented with an opportunity to do so in the way they feel is right.  For many of them, this could mean years and years of celibacy and some significant loneliness.  There are those who struggle with social anxiety, but try to overcome their fears and do their home teaching and reach out to others in service.  Each of these carry a burden that is intensely personal.  All of these people have “natural” desires to give in or give up, but they don’t.  Many of them may have struggled with these issues since childhood and, yet, they strive to master themselves because of their love for Christ or family or even self.  They have a testimony of commandments and covenants, they sacrifice for the things that matter most to them, and they obey.

It is “natural” that when we desire to do something, we want it to be our right to do it.  I believe President Packer was saying, in part, that we should all spend more effort doing what’s right, and less effort trying to redefine what is right.  When it comes to commandments, there is no double standard.  Regardless of the audience, each commandment is affixed to blessings and consequences.  The Lord asks obedience of all his children because he wants to bless all of his children; he does not target certain populations.  Gay, straight, married, single, avoiding, recovering, poor, wealthy, all– He expects us to use our powerful gift of agency to choose obedience over temptation.

Self-mastery is hard.  It is never the easy choice, but it is the easiest way to be blessed.  Like President Packer said at the conclusion of his talk, the Lord will work with us as we try to master ourselves.  He will even heal us where we are wounded, and He will do so with great kindness, tenderness, mercy and love.  He is, after all, the greatest Master that ever lived.


41 thoughts on “Self-mastery

  1. i love this. it’s so true. i have been thinking today, after reading a topic on another blog about teaching children tolerance, about how much i dislike being pigeonholed as intolerant because i believe what i believe. i know it is a time when evil is called good and good evil, and i understand that. i just think that so many of the members of our church are genuinely trying to be generous with themselves, with their hearts, with their compassion, and with their resources. it seems so fundamentally unfair that those who criticize us can’t see the good we are trying to do–or that our calls for sexual purity are as stringent for those who are straight and single as they are for those who are homosexual and single.

    i so want to defend, to rage against the unfairness of it all, but i recognize that the best way that i can testify of the truthfulness of the gospel is to live it. and for every one of us, that’s a struggle every day.

    thanks again for this. i appreciate having someone else say what i was thinking and so eloquently too. 🙂

  2. Excellent. I actually listened to the talk after I had heard how harsh and insensitive he was being to gays. I was a little shocked because I expected something strong and controversial and all I heard was what you describe: a call to utilize our Father’s plan and our Savior’s atonement to become who our loving father wants us to be in order to be happy. And I mostly heard about pornography (in part, I think because a couple of weeks before I had been prompted to sit down and talk to my kids on that subject). But you are right; we all have our struggles and weaknesses and I am grateful for the reminder, counsel and encouragement to put off the natural man.

  3. I was really frustrated with the amount of debate about his talk. It was like they were missing the whole point of it, and putting words in his mouth. I am so glad you wrote this, and helped me out with how to express how i feel about it. You just focused in on it and nailed it. Thanks.

  4. I think that a lot of the controversy came in because of the wording he was using. And perhaps he misspoke. We all do it. But when he talking about laws and then said, “Why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”, which has now been changed in the printed version, a lot of people reacted strongly to that, and made the assumption he was talking about homosexuality and gay marriage.

    Sometimes, the listener misunderstands something, and it is incumbent upon them to get clarification. But the fact that SO MANY people felt he was talking about homosexuality makes me lean towards the fact that if that is not what the speaker intended, they need to do a better job at clarifying things. I think there was a lot of room for interpretation.

    But I go agree that regardless the temptation, we all have to endure and suppress urges that come naturally to all of us.

    • I did just want to add that I do think it was a situation where there was a lot of miscommunication/misinterpretation, and this whole situation has been blown way out of proportion. But I’ve seen a lot of comments from people who have said that he was *clearly* talking about pornography and not homosexuality, and I just don’t agree it was so black and white.

    • I agree that it was blown out of proportion. The Church’s policy about this has never changed, nor did it in this talk, but it hit the media like wildfire. Like you said, it was a pounce on phrasing, but there were no changes in doctrine or principles.

  5. I need to reread his talk because I’ve been pondering on it a bit myself. One of the sisters from my mission and my MTC district who describes herself as “former LDS”, was really attacking President Packer and this talk via FB. I was really floored by her animosity toward him, in particular. But without looking back on the talk, I’ve been examining what I’ve been taught, what I believe, what I remember from the address, and what I feel inside. You very eloquently pulled my thoughts together cohesively so I guess all I need to say is “Amen”.

    Oh wait- and i have to agree with teachergirl that I find it very frustrating to be accused of being intolerant. I have never once declared feelings of distaste for someone based on their sexuality. Yet people like to make that jump that if you do not condone same-sex marriage, you are a bigot. It goes back to the old saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Does it make me a bigot to hate alcoholism despite loving the alcoholic?

  6. I think you put well the seriousness of the real issue: it’s about our Father’s love for us and our ability through the Atonement to overcome the natural man. I found this: “There are single adults, both male and female, who resist sexual advances because, even though they would love to feel loved, they believe in and live by the law of chastity. Others do not marry because they are not presented with an opportunity to do so in the way they feel is right. For many of them, this could mean years and years of celibacy and some significant loneliness” to be the best answer to the question at hand. We do not condemn a person for being a homosexual – we condemn the act of homosexuality. Just like we don’t hate a heterosexual for wanting to be with somebody in a loving relationship – we recoil at the act of having sex before marriage. This issue all comes down to the natural man and keeping the law of chastity and other laws of God. It’s too bad that this concept is so misunderstood that it’s thought of as a civil rights issue and not an issue of where we stand with God.

  7. Extremely well-put, Steph. I too felt like President Packer was covering a variety of issues, not just speaking about homosexuality. I love how you listed different trials that many people face, struggle against, and overcome with the Lord’s help. No one is immune to temptation. How comforting it is to know that no one is “born” with an inability to keep the commandments. God has promised that we will not be tempted above what we are able, but that He always prepares a way of escape for us.

    That was beautifully written. Thank you for braving the opposition and writing it. 🙂

  8. Well said, Steph.

    My brother served on an LDS panel of young single adults at NYU (New York University) to speak to the Gay/Lesbian group on campus who just had questions about why the church was against same-sex marriage. He said it was a great experience, especially because one of the LDS men, who is gay, told them exactly what you have said. That even though his natural tendencies are to be attracted to other men he does not ACT on them because his desire to lead a chaste life is greater than his desire to be homosexual.

  9. Beautifully put! Like others have said, thank you for putting the time into putting forth so much of how I feel (and many others feel) on the subject so eloquently. Thank you!

  10. Can I just say Amen, sista! I re-listened to the talk after all the uproar because I didn’t remember hearing much about homosexuality in it. Yep, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for your wonderful insights.

  11. Thank you for your thought provoking post and the link to the Church news article. I have gotten even more value from the talk than before.

  12. Thanks for this Stephanie…I think you’ve hit the nail on the head completely. We should each focus on making it through our personal struggles, whatever that struggle might entail…with the Savior’s help.

  13. I was a little distracted during this talk and (not being out West) wasn’t that aware of the controversy surrounding it. I have only today read several posts talking about this. I guess I need to read (and watch) what was said. I’m glad to have some perspectives about it before I get do.

  14. Thank you for this thoughtful post. Whether he was at times speaking to a specific issue or not, I think his ultimate point was that our loving Heavenly Father will never try or tempt us beyond our ability to bear or overcome it (with His help, of course!).

  15. I remember listening to the talk and feeling the Spirit very intensely. However, I did not recall the phrase that so many people pounced on. When my husband asked me about it later (being unable to listen to conference because of work), I realized I had no idea what people were referring to. We listened to the talk together and, once again, I felt the Spirit strongly testify that much of what you just stated.

    At the same time, I am grateful that Pres. Packer changed the wording in the printed version. I feel that shows a humble and dedicated servant who recognizes he might have made a mistake in his phrasing but does not desist from making frank, and controversial, statements. No matter how unpopular the church’s views have become.

    Well said, Stephanie, well said.

  16. I see no mistake in his phrasing. I have friends who think that they were just ‘made’ that way. That God made them ‘that way’. Absolutely not. I 2nd President Packard, our Lord would never do that. It would completely frustrate the plan of salvation. So many need a better understanding of what the natural man is. Stephanie hit the nail on the head, each of us have our own specialized natural man to conquer. I am so grateful for a leader who is standing for something!!!

    • I think the reason I winced at that line, is not actually in relation to homosexuality. But I thought about other people who were born with severe mental illness or disabilities, or other situations where their ability to make choices is severely altered, such as autism. I also work in the mental health field with children and teenagers, and I have worked with very young children who have a lot of, what we would call, unnatural/impure tendencies. The nature vs. nurture debate is a very interesting one, and one I don’t have the answer to.

      Also, Elder Oaks gave a talk in 2007 about homosexuality where he said, “Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault…”, but again, he does go on to say that we need to control these susceptibilities and tendencies, just like anger, a covetous attitude, etc., and talked about the behavior and still resisting temptation. So I do think there is even some debate among the church leaders, and they have moved away from the hard line of stating that it is 100% a choice to have those feelings.

      Given that President Packer changed this particular wording in his printed talk, this leads me to believe that he misspoke or didn’t intend what was said, or feels that it didn’t accurately state what he was actually trying to get across.

      • Kristina, I had a hard time with that line for the same reason. But my husband did help me see that perhaps all Pres. Packer meant by it was that the Lord would not give us anything that we couldn’t overcome or at least learn to deal with, with His help. Which makes more sense, but I think it context it kind of jumped out as being that the Lord doesn’t give us hard things. Because we all know that he does, and it IS because he loves us.

  17. I’ll say it again. I’m glad you took the time to write this. My experience was similar to someone else’s above in that I had heard about the talk via media etc. before I had listened to it. I prayed for help to hear what he said and meant, not what people said he meant. I felt the Spirit and felt a power and peace in his message.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this, too: “I believe President Packer was saying, in part, that we should all spend more effort doing what’s right, and less effort trying to redefine what is right.”

    I become more and more grateful for the clarity of our leaders’ teachings and of the Church’s position because they cut through the many voices and help us know what God’s laws are so we know how to seek to repent and change and grow and improve.

    Anyway, thanks.

  18. I read this yesterday, but I did not want to comment until I went back and listened again to Elder Packer’s talk.

    You are so right. I love Elder Packer. As I listened again, I felt he was trying to tell us there are laws, we need to understand them and know that with God’s help we can live them–all of them. And when we make mistakes, He will help us overcome. He loves us and wants us to have a life filled with joy.

    Thanks for your beautiful post, Stephanie.

  19. I agree with what many of the others commentors have said… Very well put! I really enjoyed what you had to say. Now when are we going to do lunch again now that you are back in Utah. I’ll even bring my roll recipe or some rolls if you want them! 🙂

  20. Steph,

    Thank you for this post. I appreciate your willingness to “dive in” and tackle what has become a controversial talk. I have been upset by all of the comments and speculation as well. Thanks again!

  21. I LOVED the church’s official statement given after receiving the Human Rights Campaign’s petition, because it was so clear cut and direct. I felt that some of Elder Packer’s words were ambiguous and open to interpretation (and clearly it was interpreted in a negative light by many people). Thanks for putting your feelings on your blog.

  22. So very well said 🙂 I would only add that as these Last Days get closer to THE last day, those temptations of the natural man will get harder and harder to overcome as Satan works triple time to make us fall.
    Great post.

  23. I think I may share this on facebook. I feel that you expressed what I was thinking, but hadn’t quite been able to organize my thoughts in such a fashion. thanks for sharing! 🙂

  24. Thank you for writing this Stephanie. I’ve read so much (good and bad) about this talk and I really appreciate the people like you who really understood it. I think I was distracted during the talk, and then I only heard parts of it, and then I immediately saw controversy on FB from a family member who is gay and so it was kind of crazy. You are such a voice of wisdom. Thank you again!

  25. I couldn’t agree more. We all have challenges and susceptibilities to different temptations. That’s why we need to be understanding of others and show love towards them. It’s easy to point the finger, but hard to “cross ourselves” and master our own temptations.

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