“We need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.” -Russell M. Nelson
In a talk entitled A Sin-Resistant Generation, Joy D. Jones talks about some ways we can teach and lead and guide our children in becoming “sin-resistant,” as the now-prophet and President of the LDS church, Russell M. Nelson, implored the women of the church. Sister Jones suggests several small but consistent things we can help them do that will bring them closer to the Savior.
In her talk she briefly mentions the stripling warriors, a group of 2060 young men (youth) from the Book of Mormon who courageously went to war to defend their families and their freedom, knowing that God would deliver them. They had developed such great faith through the teaching and example of their mothers. And because of their faith, not one of their lives was lost. Sister Jones says, “These young men went to war carrying Christlike virtues as weapons against their adversaries.”
Pondering on this talk and the idea of raising a generation of sin-resistant individuals brought to my mind a couple instances when people seemed, to me, to become resistant to sinful and harmful things, and made me take a closer look at the Christlike virtues that became their focus and their “weapons.”
Portugal and The War On Drugs
There has been a war on drugs raging for a long time, and it has just gotten worse. In 2001 Portugal decided, instead of fighting in the conventional sense, to decriminalize drugs, and instead use their money and resources to help drug addicts connect to their feelings and to their society, to find purpose, belonging and significance. Something amazing and unexpected happened: when this article was written in 2015, injecting drug use was down by 50%. They have seen a significant decrease in overdoses and drug-related crime. This shift from harsh punishment to connection and assistance is the only change they made. Imagine if they were also immersed into an environment where the Spirit of the Lord was always present.
My Brother and Pornography Addiction
My brother Josh (joshthemormon.com) wrote a couple years ago about overcoming a pornography addiction (read his article at http://twomormonguys.com/how-to-overcome-a-pornography-addiction-easily/). In his experience, and similar to the war on drugs, attaching shame to pornography addiction and focusing on how bad and filthy it is, is not helping and is making things worse.
Shame makes a person think he is bad and filthy and undesirable and worthless, which leads to giving up on oneself, and perpetuates the negative behavior in an attempt to escape those painful feelings. The only way he was finally empowered and enabled to overcome his addiction was by releasing the shame and changing his emotional state and focus. By recognizing that his worth had not diminished; that he was wanted and accepted and loved by the Lord, even when his behavior was not. By finding deep and meaningful connections with others. By simply deflating pornography and effectively removing its power over him.
Decriminalizing drugs and removing the shame from pornography addiction in no way makes those things okay or any less harmful. The key is simply to shift the focus from how bad they are (and trying to control or scare people to keep them from doing these things) to a focus of love, and of connection, and especially of Jesus. It’s already plain to see how destructive sin is. I think it’s much more effective to meet the need that’s driving the sinful behavior, and to focus on where we want to go.
The conventional approach is one of fear. A fear that unwittingly gives more power to the very things we’re trying to avoid, for that which we focus on is given power. The Christlike approach is one of unconditional love. A love that says, “You’re not worthless or alone, and I’m here to help.” A love that says, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). When people feel loved and accepted and significant, even (or especially) when they know they don’t deserve it, they are motivated to change because they experience a change of heart. We do the things we do because of the way we feel, particularly about ourselves. When we feel a sense of belonging and significance in the world, we have little need or desire to escape into harmful behaviors or to act out in rebellion.
An example that comes to mind is the change of heart that occurs in Jean Valjean in the story Les Miserables, when the priest that he robbed not only didn’t turn him in for stealing, but freely gave him his silver candlesticks as well as that which he had stolen. The priest saw a son of God in need of encouragement and help, and his loving and generous actions led Valjean to feel inexplicable humility and gratitude and a desire to be a better man. He then spent the remainder of his life in service to others. Though fictional, I think this story illustrates this point well. Emotions drive behavior.
So how do we raise a sin-resistant generation? I think the first step is to shift our focus from fear (from focusing on the behavior we want to avoid) to unconditional love and connection, and to creating the positive feelings that will lead to the desire for positive behavior. I think kids also need information and tools and frequent, open discussions about things that could lead to harm (media usage, interactions with friends, etc.), free of shame or fear or control. Shifting our focus does not mean we ignore potential problems. But imposing strict limits on someone or over-controlling them does not lead to self-government, but rather, usually to sneaking behaviors and disconnection. Our kids need to know they can always come to us with questions or for help. They need a partner, not an enforcer.
When we are connected we will be in a better position to lead and guide and help our kids to do those things that invite the Spirit and bring them closer to the Savior. When we are connected we can be at our children’s sides, discussing things they encounter, what they think, and how they feel. We can partner with them as they navigate the world around them. We can share what has helped us. We can lead by example. We can come up with plans, together, that will help each of us avoid evil and focus on good.
Let our focus be on connection and cultivating together an atmosphere in our homes where the Spirit dwells. Let our focus be on Jesus, who showed us the way to do this, and who enables us to repent when we fall. He is always the way.
“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)