Identity, the Battle of Our Lives

Scott A. Isbell, “Identity, the Battle of Our Lives,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2008 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 116–124.

Identity, the Battle of O​​ur Lives

Scott A. Isbell

In Sun Tzu‘s The Art of War, one learns in the very first chapter about planning. This planning is based upon the knowledge that one acquires about the opponent. A cunning general will plan his attack in order to deceive his enemy and conceal his true objectives. In the Book of Mormon, one reads of Captain Moroni and his maneuvers to regain lost cities with the least amount of casualties. Other cunning men, through misdirection and secret combinations, caused entire governments to be overthrown (Ether 8:18–19, 22, 24). Every human being is constantly in the midst of battle, not a battle for land or power but for our souls. The adversary is a cunning general. He knows every human being and plans his attacks accordingly. One of his favored and most subtle attacks destroys the self-worth of the individual. To defend against these attacks, one must first recognize the adversary’s influence and then work to overcome it by coming unto Christ through prayer, service, and scripture study.

Moses 1:39 states, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” At first glance, attention is directed to the terms work, glory, immortality, and eternal life; however, further examination of the scripture reveals the importance of the word my. Here the Lord emphasizes that this is His work and His glory. The work of the Almighty God is to give eternal life and immortality. All that He is and all that He strives for are summed up in those two goals. If God already has all glory, then how can He receive more? God receives glory by giving it to His worthy children. The greater the number of His children that are worthy to receive this gift, the greater the glory the Father receives. The greatest sorrows and the greatest joys that the Father feels come from His children (Moses 7:28, 37, 40).

From the beginning of time, Heavenly Father prepared a way, bestowing upon His children the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life. Placing His children on the earth, He made them agents unto themselves, allowing them to choose between good and evil (see Moses 7:32). This choice has been the subject of debate ever since Satan first desired to undermine the plan of God. Satan, after opposing the all-powerful God, lost his first estate and the opportunity to progress. Mortality is a war, and Satan fights for our souls. If the children of God are to win this war, they must never stop fighting this most strenuous battle.

Satan desires that all men be “miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). Having failed to deprive the children of God of their agency, he now seeks to deprive them of eternal glory. After thousands of years of practice, one would think that he has perfected his tactics. Clearly a defense must be mounted to survive his stratagems. The defense must consist of three elements. First, the attack must be recognized as such. Second, one must know where the adversary will attack. Third, one must know the proper defense and mount this defense upon correct principles.

First, to defend against an attack, one must recognize it for what it is. Although alcohol, drugs, pornography, and other addictions may seem to be the only front on which Satan attacks, his greatest weapon is one that is hardly recognized—an attack so subtle that it enters and exits thoughts without leaving a trace that the enemy has been there; yet it is something so powerful that it shakes the individual from center to circumference. Satan purposefully aims to destroy the knowledge of the heavenly relationship between the Father and His children.

Understanding that Satan’s attacks are specifically aimed at self-worth is the second step of defense. People must also recognize and believe that they are truly sons or daughters of God. Understanding this simple truth gives hope for a better life and a desire to do good. Heavenly Father knows each one of His children personally. He yearns for His children’s love and desires to be with them; however, they must demonstrate this same desire for themselves. In order for His children to learn and discover this, His children had to leave His presence. Thus, this life has become a proving ground, to “prove herewith . . . if they will do all the things that God has commanded” (Abraham 3:25). Christ commanded that all men be perfect, even as He and His Father are perfect (3 Nephi 12:48). Although achieving perfection is impossible in this mortal life, following the example of Christ will never lead us astray.

Even the Savior’s self-esteem was attacked in life. Jesus Christ set the example in all things. He was tempted more than any other man on this earth. James E. Talmage teaches that one of the greatest temptations presented to Christ came while He was hanging on the cross. The Sadducees and Pharisees standing below yelled to Him, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luke 23:37).[1] He knew that He was the Son of God, and Satan attacked this very knowledge. This is one of Satan’s key points of attack for all of the children of God.

Through small and simple ways, God helps His children recognize who they are. A popular children’s hymn teaches the precious truth that everyone is a child of God and that it is necessary for every person to know this.[2] Every human being is literally a spirit child of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. This vital truth should be fixed deep in the soul and be fundamental to every decision in life. Understanding this principle is a confirmation of the dignity, worth, and virtue that all of His children possess. Heavenly Father knows the name and the circumstances of every one of His children. He is conscious of them and their wants and needs. He hears their prayers. He knows of their hopes and dreams and also of their fears and frustrations. He knows what they can become through faith in His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. All of His children are loved equally and are empowered through obedience to become rightful heirs in His eternal kingdom, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8: 17). Nevertheless, Satan finds a way to discourage mankind.

When discouragement abounds all around, God’s children must comprehend their potential to do great things. If one feels disheartened and down, the best option would be to choose a life of triumph, not tragedy. Everyone should be more accepting of body shapes and sizes, without longing to look like someone else. A young woman dealing with the difficulties of the world’s imposed image of perfection once said,

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of us is realizing and accepting our individual worth. Most of us struggle to develop our self-worth and to accept who we are. I perceive this as a universal trial. It can be made especially difficult because the world offers so many artificial sources to find this answer, for acceptance. When I was in middle school, fitting in was a priority in my life. Ooooohh, I so badly wanted to be more tan, to have silky straight hair, and definitely ditch the braces. However through my faith and relationship with God, I found my true joy and self-worth from my eternal perspective.[3]

Each child of God is different. Some are tall and some are short. Some are round and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or another wants to be something they are not. This delusion has evolved so much that now one can create a character and live a second life in a virtual world. This character tends to personify everything that the world demands—strength, beauty, and skill. To the world it matters very much what one looks like and what one does for a living. But in truth, it does not matter if one is a painter or a politician, for this is of no importance to God—He loves unconditionally. One adviser to teenage girls said: “You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power . . . the key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you].”[4] And in the kingdom of God, each person is “more precious than rubies” (Proverb 3:15). Every person on this earth has the power within him or her to influence nations today as well as generations tomorrow.

Satan has held back nothing in attacking the children of God. He laces movies, television, music, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the poisonous message that looks are everything. The lie is that if one looks good enough, life will be glamorous, and one will be happy because of the value associated with outward appearance. This pressure to be like others is intense. If one is to overcome these temptations, one needs the protection and blessing of Heavenly Father. And for one to fully claim these blessings, one must stay true and follow the commandments of God, not slavishly follow the whims of fads and fashions. How easy it is to become entangled in Satan’s web of lies. Everyone at some time in their life feels the pains of rejection, be it the rejection of a prospective date or a promotion. In this moment of rejection, battle rages within the very depths of the soul, under the false pretense of self-consciousness. Thoughts relating to weight, intelligence, and appearance infiltrate the defenses and are then rationalized away as low self-esteem. This infiltration eventually establishes a stronghold of the enemy in the minds of God’s children. If one would recognize these attacks instead of rationalize them, one is able to discern the good from the evil. With this empowering knowledge, the attack and the site of attack have been recognized. Thus the third step is now in order: mounting a proper defense through the adherence to gospel principles. This is accomplished through prayer, service, and scripture study.

Praye​​r

Communication with Heavenly Father is essential if one is to win this war, and it is through prayer that this is accomplished. The Lord said, “pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan” (D&C 10:5). Prayer protects the children of God against the adversary, for praying authenticates the divine birthright of each of God’s children. Many prayers are spoken while on bended knee, but prayers of the heart also reach the heavens. These are the sincere desires of the heart. Indeed, sincerity requires that one draw from the earnest feelings of the heart when praying, rather than using vain repetitions or pretentious affectations such as those condemned by the Savior in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Matthew 6: 7). This sincerity in word truly becomes the “song of the heart” and a prayer, not only reaching God, but touching the hearts of others as well (D&C 25:12).

Moroni taught to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). There is no stipulation on circumstance here; pray with all the energy of heart all the time. Yet commonly, one prays most earnestly in times of need. Even the Savior “prayed more earnestly” in His hour of agony (Luke 22:44). However, in times of great personal hurt or need, more may be required than mere asking. The Lord said, “You have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind” (D&C 9:7–8). Blessings sought through prayer oftentimes require work, effort, and diligence on our part.

The Almighty has declared, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). He has prepared the way, and the way is clear. It requires diligence and dedication. One must strive to do good continually. Then the Lord will perform miracles in behalf of His faithful children. Alma, in speaking to his son Helaman, taught of the miracles that led Lehi and his family to the promised land. “Nevertheless,” he said, “because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey” (Alma 37:41). If the children of God are to progress, they must pray.

Servic​​e

Heavenly Father cares for and watches over His children, and it is usually through another person that He meets their individual needs. Therefore, it is vital that His children serve one another. A strong sense of self-worth is acquired through the magnification of our view of life. This is accomplished as we expand our view of others and of our own possibilities. When we follow the teachings of the Savior, we are blessed with the Spirit and the vision to see things as He does. With the Spirit of the Lord, one desires to serve and seeks for opportunities to do so. The Lord then blesses His children with a greater portion of His Spirit, and this pattern continues in one eternal round.

Jesus summarized and simplified the commandments to emphasize the importance of developing our love for God, for our neighbors, and for ourselves (Matthew 22:36–40). There can be no real success in life that is not connected with keeping and carrying out these commandments. It is easy to get so busy with “stuff” that the time dedicated to service is instead consumed by everyday tasks. So often that which is important in life is pushed aside with the idea that the pursuits of less significant tasks will bring happiness, when in fact, they only bring fleeting satisfaction. It becomes a perpetual journey to a destination that does not exist. Serving others allows us to see clearly and brings true joy into our lives. One of the differences between true joy and mere pleasure is that certain pleasures are realized only at the cost of someone else’s pain. Joy, on the other hand, springs out of selflessness and service, and it benefits rather than hurts others.

Scriptu​​res

Heavenly Father has given His children light and knowledge through the writings of His prophets. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, contain the pure doctrine and gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Pearl of Great Price, one learns of the noble and great ones that existed before this life (Abraham 3:22). When reading the scriptures, it becomes clear that every human being is a child of God and a co-heir of God with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16–17). Upon meditating and applying the doctrines found in the scriptures, it becomes easier to distinguish between good and evil. Thus, the influences of Satan become diminished and the individual is empowered with the light of Christ. This light will guide and build one’s self-worth, for it is founded in the knowledge of the truth. All of God’s children should desire to have this kind of strength in the gospel and should strive to keep the commandments. If this is done, the Lord promises His children eternal life, “which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).

It is pertinent to prayerfully read the scriptures every day. The Lord guides His children through these inspired words. Scripture study should not be set aside, or there will be room for the devil to discourage man’s attempts to strengthen his faith and self-worth. The enemy never sleeps but constantly seeks for the utter destruction of every child of God. There is great power in reading the words of the Lord every day. If one will trust in the Lord and let His words penetrate the soul, humility will abound and will fortify the defense against Satan.

The Lord knows the trials and troubles of every one of His children. The designs of God are difficult to understand with limited vision. Physical disabilities, trials, and tribulations may never be understood in this life. The Lord said, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand” (D&C 58:3–4).

The responsibility to endure is uniquely personal. But one is never alone. The enlightening power of the Lord can be claimed if one will come unto Christ and be perfected in Him and love Him with all available might, mind, and strength (D&C 59:5). He will support and comfort His children. He will guide His children through life that they might perform a mighty work and a wonder here on this earth. The adversary has been and will be forever conquered by the Holy One of Israel. Together with Christ, the children of God will stand strong in defense of truth and righteousness.

President Gordon B. Hinckley issued a clarion call in 1995: “I invite every one of you, . . . to stand on your feet and with a song in your heart move forward, living the gospel, loving the Lord, and building the kingdom. Together we shall stay the course and keep the faith.”[5] Then one will have the privilege of standing before the Lord at the last day and hearing the words, “well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23). The journey will not be easy, for battle never is. The Lord is the Captain, and He will not let His people fail. If each individual will heed His commands, He will guide them triumphantly to their heavenly home.

Notes


[1] James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1982), 611.

[2] “I Am a Child of God,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 301.

[3] Natania Asay and Susan Knickerbocker, “Hometown Hero: Why do we try to fit in when we were born to stand out?” The South Whidbey Record, May 27, 2006.

[4] Julia DeVillers, Teen People, September 2005, 104.

[5] Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, October 1995, 96.