Atonement Application Program - Step Four: Truth

Key Principle: Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.

Step four is the one a lot of people get stuck on, and now I understand why.  It is so overwhelming to try to think of every event, person, situation, anything that elicits a negative emotional reaction1 - over your entire life.  I wasn't even sure where to start.

I went with the brainstorm method at first - just wrote down everything I could think of off the top of my head.  Then I divided my life into segments (pre-kindergarten, elementary school, high school, etc.) and brainstormed with that period of my life in mind.  I went through my contacts and photos to spark additional memories.  Then I went through a list of negative emotions and wrote down any other memories that came to mind.  After I felt like I had a good list (~475 items), I copied it into a spreadsheet.  Then I filled out additional columns explaining why each inventory item sparked each negative emotion and what character weaknesses led to me feeling that emotion.

Once I got halfway down the list, I started noticing patterns.  It was actually kind of fascinating seeing them.  I am very insecure.  I compare myself to others, which results in a lot of jealousy and resentment.  I want to control everything, which results in frustration when things don't go my way.  I have a lot of anxiety about getting in trouble and being punished.  I'm more materialistic than I thought.

After finishing my spreadsheet, I made a list of every negative character trait I had used frequently and then searched through the spreadsheet to find trends and patterns.  I hate being late and have very low tolerance for other people being late.  Those kinds of inventory items are caused by impatience.  I'm also impatient with kids, pets, long car trips, trips that take longer than they should, slow drivers, and processes that take a long time.  I summarized my findings in a moral inventory essay.

I really had no idea how much of a pride problem I have.  After working on this list it was extremely easy to pray, "I am so incredibly flawed and broken.  There's no way I can fix myself.  Please bless me with grace to overcome these issues!"

The ARP guide says to list positive reactions as well, but the other 12-step programs I've looked at have only focused on negatives.  Seeing how long it's taken me to analyze the negatives, I decided determining my positive character traits can be a future project.

Delivered from hell

I was looking through my old journals and found this dream I had written down from 2005 that I had completely forgotten about:

Our stake was doing an activity based on the Plan of Salvation, and I was part of it, as a member of the angelic choir that sat in rows of fold-down chairs in front of and facing the stage.  The beginning of the activity featured three different movies depicting the plan of salvation, but to drive the point home even further, a live pageant was to be performed for the audience. 

At the dress rehearsal (the only rehearsal the choir ever had with the rest of the cast), I sang our best the pieces written for the heavenly choir and watched the pageant actors with interest.  The story of Adam and Eve was told first, starting with the Garden of Eden and ending with their partaking of the fruit.  When we got to the scenes after that, the ones featuring Satan and Christ, the director said we’d be skipping those scenes in the dress rehearsal.  A feeling came over me that those scenes with be very important to me, but I shrugged it off. 

The evening of the activity went well.  The movies were mildly interesting, if a little repetitive.  The pageant itself went smoothly, and before I realized it, we were up to Satan’s first scene after the Fall of Adam. 

As the actor playing Satan delivered his monologue, the choir sang a wordless tune in a minor key, softly at first but then rising into a crescendo as Satan reached the climax of his speech, ranting and raving like a madman.  My angelic song turned into shrieks of horror as Satan lunged at me and grabbed me.  I was not expecting this.  With me in his icy-cold clutches, he flew through the air toward the back of the room with the help of stunt ropes. As he threw me into the pit of hell behind the audience, reality seemed to fade away. Darkness seemed to engulf me, and the snake-like Satan laughed and laughed as my misery grew apparent.  I started to weep and wail uncontrollably, feeling like I was doomed to spend eternity in the misery of hell. 

Just when I was about to give up hope, a light started shining through the impenetrable dark, and I saw Christ flying toward me.  He took me in his arms and flew me far, far away from the pit of hell, toward a world of light filled with angelic singing.  I continued to cry, but they were tears of joy as well as sorrow, because I knew that while I had been weeping in hell, He had been atoning for my sins and dying for me so that He could come rescue me.  Finally, we reached our destination, and as He let me go, I collapsed into a heap at his feet.  All I could think of was that He had delivered ME, personally, from Satan’s grasp.  I stayed there, on my knees, for what seemed like forever, but eventually reality returned, and I realized that the pageant was over.  As I got up from my knees, I understood the feeling I had had during the dress rehearsal: those scenes left me with the deep impression that Christ knows ME personally and loves me so much that He bore my sins and died for me so that He could save me from death and hell.  It was a feeling that I never wanted to forget.

A lesson in deception

I learned a hard lesson this fall on the importance of listening to the Spirit, no matter how much it conflicts with what I want.

Last year I received an extraordinary blessing from a close friend and spiritual mentor.  It was comforting in many ways and promised future blessings I would receive.  I thought this friend was a spiritual giant, so I was extremely confused when I did not feel the Spirit present at all during the blessing.  I brushed it off by rationalizing that I must not have been spiritually sensitive enough to feel the Spirit during that extraordinary experience.  I trusted this friend and desperately wanted the promised blessings to be true.

It wasn't till this fall that I learned this friend was not who I thought he was, and I could finally face the truth I had been avoiding head-on: this blessing was a fake. I don't know if he made it up to manipulate me, if he thought it was real due to some kind of mental illness, or if he was just tapping into an ungodly source.

I listened to the recording I had made of the blessing.  No Spirit.

I read the transcription of the blessing.  No Spirit.

I played the recording and showed the transcript to someone else who agreed: no Spirit.

Then I listened to the recording of a blessing someone else not as "spiritually advanced" had given me.  Instant Spirit.

I had been deceived.  I hadn't trusted my own feelings as I should have.  I let my trust in this person override what I knew deep down every time I read it: this blessing was a fake.

Lessons learned:

1. Always, always listen to the Spirit (or lack thereof).
2. Don't assume something is true just because someone I consider more "spiritually advanced" than me says it.
3. The only one I can really trust is Jesus.