Monday, December 15, 2008

Wickedness Never Was Happiness

Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.

-Alma 41:10

Most every time I've felt unhappy I've heard someone quote this scripture. If that didn’t happen, you can bet I’ve remembered past lessons I've had in church – the crux of each were: unhappy people are unhappy because they’re doing something they shouldn’t.It’s lovely, really.

Why don't I buy that? How many of us do? And how much does it suck when we're being "good" and are still unhappy? I’ve had so many of those moments, moments where I was about as Molly as you could get and still had down days. I had family that disapproved of my new religion, school, that sort of thing. My heart was totally in the church, and yet someone always brought up that damn scripture as if shaking a finger if I was having a bad day. The insinuation, if not downright accusation always was, "Well then you must have something to repent of, hmm?"

I wasn't perfect by all means then and I'm certainly not now, but if I'm doing all I can shouldn't there be room enough for a different reason for my having a hard time? Is it really that easy?There's so much guilt. I don't think people pass it on with any malice (maybe there are a few self-righteous morons who do). President Hinckley always said we're doing good but we could be doing better. I liked that, but some took it to an extreme and others felt they could never be good enough, either by their own merits or due to uninvited commentary.

Read the whole verse in its context. It's saying we cannot live a carnal, unlawful life and expect later to live in eternal glory with Heavenly Father. That's the teaching. I think that's all Alma was saying.Happiness requires a certain amount of heart and authenticity with self and others. Unhappiness has all sorts of roots. For some, unhappiness stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain. For some it's a matter of outside, uncontrollable influences that directly affect their lives. For some it's a matter of God refining us. For some it could be due to unwise and downright horrible choices, perhaps in trying to avoid life instead of confront it and deal with it. Sometimes it's because they're living a lie and haven't been able to deal with it. They don't know if they should or can talk with anyone.

True happiness comes from following God, sure. I would add that true happiness comes when we're brutally honest with ourselves and our surroundings and come to terms with it all with God's blessing. We can pretend and ignore all the unpleasantness and call ourselves happy. We'll look happy to others. We can do all the "right" things and still not be happy. It is possible, but it’s not fun. We’re not to be Stepford children of God, but just children of God.

The Gospel is full of good guidelines to help us attain the kind of lasting happiness we all need. It is true doing bad things won't bring us happiness, but in our very small and well-defined box of what is "good" we tend to miss that perhaps other people are happy even if they aren't reading their scriptures every day. Are they missing out on something? Sure, though I imagine it depends on one’s motives in reading the scriptures: out of dutiful, dreary obligation or out of a real desire to learn?

I've endured too many Sundays that were anything but restful even to my spirit. I've had good and spiritual Sundays as well, but definitely enough soul-biting days as to bring me complete frustration. Some may say I was perhaps not being too lenient but too strict. That would be a fair argument; there was a time I feared riding the line in case I inadvertently fell over on the wrong side one day. But I wasn’t happy.

There has to be a wicked-free medium. I’m always searching as I’ve found an ultra-strict lifestyle often leads to unhappiness – at least for me. I’ve found as long as I do everything with prayer I’ll be fine. The guilt still gets to me on bad days, though, that perhaps I'm not being righteous enough and if I'd just get back in line and suck it up all will be well. After all, there were those in more difficult circumstances than I and they did it, right? Sing with me now:

Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked…

But were they happy? I don't know. I can't say. I do think it’s dangerous to assume they were – that anyone is – and then tell those who are struggling that they should not only do what they’re asked, but do it with a smile because, after all, the pioneers suffered even more or because the Relief Society president has much more of a burden on her shoulders.

The problem is the impression that we're either righteous or wicked. It really adds to much anxiety, insecurity, and overzealousness. We all know that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Our happiness is not always a measure of our righteousness, and it’s dangerous to teach that it is.

Posted also at Feminist Mormon Housewives.


Amanda said...

I've got to add something to this. You say "True happiness comes from following God." I don't believe this is the whole truth. Perhaps it is true that true happiness can come from following God, but it is not the only place. There are many people in this world who dont' follow God who are truly happy. Many Christians don't like to hear it, but it's true. Nabokov even said there were three plotlines that would never get punished, and one of the three he named was about an athiest who lives a happy and fulfilled life and dies in his sleep at an old age. No one wants to hear that. They don't believe it's possible.

If the world was full of direct consequence - follow God and you'll be happy, stray off the path and you'll be sad - then everyone would choose the same path. People wouldn't go out of their way to choose sadness. If every good action was followed by a good consequence, we'd be doing good stuff all the time. The world is not like that, though. The world is full of bad decisions being rewarded, innocent people hurt and in pain, and so on. Life isn't a happy-lovey fairy tale. It's not so simple as do-and-receive. That's why that quote you gave always irritated me.

I had a sunday school teacher once tell us that if we were angry, sad, or in any way not happy, then that meant we were not good followers of the gospel. Not just that, but we were letting Satan control our emotions. Happiness was sheer willpower and devotion. I almost walked out of the room. I suffer from bipolar disorder, and no one had better ever tell me that I can "control" when depress clenches me so tightly I can't breathe. No one can tell me that any more than they can tell me my manic phases are true happiness, no matter if they feel that way to me. Happiness is individual, and often has to do with a lot more than what rules you are and aren't following, and anyone who says otherwise simply has no idea. No idea at all.

Lisa said...

Eh, if that's how it came across it wasn't intended. That's pretty much what I was saying ;)

Amanda said...

Oh, no, I didn't mean YOU were saying that. It just irritated me when people would quote those things at me and tell me I was doing something wrong, or why else would I be depressed.

Lisa said...

Ah, okay. Good. I was considering clarifying, but then I figured I was clear enough, haha. I guess I took your speaking in the second person ('you') as speaking to me. Thought maybe you missed something.

Amanda said...

Yeah, I just wanted to add that true happiness only comes from God if that's what a person, as an individual, needs in order to be happy.

Generally we're on the same page. ;)

Kengo Biddles said...

One could argue both the semantic intent of the word "happiness" in that context and also the timeframe of said happiness. That's how I've reconciled myself with it, to be honest.