I am surprised and a little bit worried. You might even say I’m scared. As I’ve said lots of times, I’m a counter. I keep track of really nonsensical things. And one thing I’ve taken note of is this: I’ve been teaching the Fourth Sunday Conference address lessons for 16 months and this is the fourth lesson on addiction and pornography. And that doesn’t include the lesson Ledah taught for me that was also on this same subject.
Do you suppose someone is trying to tell us something?
Are we listening?
It reminds me of the General Priesthood Session in 2004 when President Hinckley said he would rather talk to the Priesthood and the members about all the many wonderful things going on in the Church but, once again, he was obliged to speak to them about pornography. He said, “I rather reluctantly speak to a theme that I have dealt with before. I do it in the spirit of the words of Alma, who said: “This is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance.” President Hinckley said he spoke on this subject several years ago [so this was before 2004] but, and listen to this. He said, “While the matter of which I speak was a problem then, it is a much more serious problem now. It grows increasingly worse. It is like a raging storm, destroying individuals and families, utterly ruining what was once wholesome and beautiful.
That was seven years ago. And the situation has grown exponentially since then.
I don’t know about any of you. I can only speak for myself and about my own experiences. But I don’t suppose I am all that different than most members of the Church. I can tell you that throughout my nearly 60 years on this Earth, I or someone close to me — either family members or close friends — have been caught in the awful tangled webs of addiction. I’ve been personally acquainted with every single situation that Elder Ballard addresses.
He talks about nicotine; opiates—which include heroin, morphine, and other painkillers; he talks about tranquilizers; cocaine; alcohol; marijuana; and methamphetamines. He addresses prescription painkillers and caffeine. And, he says, “There is also great concern about some of the pernicious, addictive behaviors like gambling, video games, sexting, texting, tweeting, television, as well as on-line social relationships and evil pornography that are all so personally destructive and rampant in our society.
Sidebar: Here’s one of those stats that makes you sit up and take notice: While money, abuse and unfaithfulness used to be the number one, two and three causes of divorce, Facebook was identified as “the ‘primary source’ ” of evidence in divorce cases by two-thirds of divorce lawyers who were surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. This figure is especially incredible when you consider that Facebook didn’t even exist ten years ago. That’s a testament to how quickly technology and social change can advance in our mad, modern world. Often on-line relationships jeopardize our real-life ones. And that’s right up Satan’s alley, because he hates intact families. He does all he can to disrupt and, how did President Hinckley put it? . . . “destroy individuals and families.”
I’m sure we can also add to his list, the many other addictions, obsessions and compulsions that are addressed in the Church’s 12-step program. Addictions to food, shopping, working, exercising, spending, controlling, anger, abuse, even cleaning.
Elder Ballard gave this talk last fall and if you recall, he spoke about fly fishermen. He said that fall is an exciting time for them because it’s the time trout are driven by an almost insatiable hunger to feast — in order to fortify their bodies against the scarcity of winter food. The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception. The adept fisherman studies trout behavior, the weather, the water current, and the types of insects trout eat, and when those insects hatch. He will often craft, by hand, the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks, need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.
Elder Ballard says, “What a thrill it is to watch a trout break the surface of the water, inhale the fly, and resist until it is finally exhausted and reeled in. The test is the pitting of the fisherman’s knowledge and skill against the noble trout.”
You know where I’m going with this . . . And it’s frightening . . .
The use of artificial lures to fool and catch a fish is an example of the way Lucifer often tempts, deceives, and tries to ensnare us.
Like the fly fisherman who knows that trout are driven by hunger, Lucifer knows our “hunger,” or weaknesses, and tempts us with counterfeit, yet personally crafted, lures which, if taken, can cause us to be yanked from the stream of life into his unmerciful influence. And unlike a fly fisherman who catches and releases the fish unharmed back into the water, Lucifer will not voluntarily let go. His goal is to make his victims as miserable as he is.
Let’s talk about television for a minute. According to a recent Neilson study the average American now watches nearly 5 hours of TV a day with a household watching 8 hours a day. These figures represent an increase of 25 % over the past 10 years. And the same report says that we spend an average of two hours a day surfing the web, checking emails and engaging in social websites like Facebook.
There are more reality shows than ever before. Instead of us living, really living and doing, we are sitting and watching! America wants to find the next new greatest restaurant –the next new greatest — everything, really. The next greatest model, the next greatest chef. The next greatest designer, singer, dancer, entrepreneur. I think pretty soon there is going to be a reality show to pick the next President. [And of course I’m saying all of this with tongue-in-cheek.]
They should combine all the shows into one giant reality show. It would save us so much time. And who wouldn’t want to watch a show about the next tap-dancing – celebrity – bachelor – apprentice who could survive in the wilderness while singing and losing weight. Ryan Seacrest, of course, would host.
But, seriously, consider this: The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
Researchers tell us there is a mechanism in our brain called the pleasure center. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our willpower, our judgment, our logic, and our morality. This leads the addict to abandon whatever he or she knows is right [Whatever he or she has known for a long time is right!] And when that happens, the hook is set and Lucifer takes control.
Elder Ballard says, “That great battle in pre-mortal life continues today! The battle over man’s God-given agency is still as heated as it was over 6000 years ago. Satan and his minions have their lures all around us, hoping that we will falter and take his flies so he can reel us in with counterfeit means. He uses addiction to steal away agency.” The is a huge connection between addiction and agency!
Satan may have lost the war in heaven — the first battle for our agency. He was cast out with one third of all those present. But he is still fighting that very same war. A war over our agency. He is stealing away the agency of millions of those who made it to earth, by being the CEO of the empire of addictions. According to the dictionary, addiction of any kind means to surrender to something, thus relinquishing our agency and becoming dependent on some life-destroying substance or behavior. And I know this from personal experience: a behavior or addiction may start for one reason but it can continue for an entirely different [and often unrelated] reason.
Satan knows how to exploit and ensnare us with artificial substances and behaviors or temporary pleasure. Satan, after all, is, the God of artificial, the God of superficial, the God of temporary, the God of counterfeit! Elder Ballard says, “I have observed the impact when one struggles to win back control, to become free from destructive abuse and addiction, and to regain self-esteem and independence. It is not easy. But it is possible.”
Isn’t it interesting that we came to earth to live! But Satan’s many entrapments compromise our lives and often convince us to merely exist. And if he can keep all of our time and efforts tied up in addictions of one sort or another, he is controlling time that might otherwise be used to build up the kingdom of God.
It’s chilling. Absolutely chilling to me.
Elder Ballard told about a personal experience he had with a sister who was in the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. She shared her sorrowful journey from complete mental and physical health, a wonderful marriage and family, into mental illness, debilitating health, and the breakup of her family—all of which started with the abuse of prescription painkillers.
Two years earlier, she hurt her back in a car accident. Her doctor prescribed a medication to relieve the unbearable pain. She thought she needed something more, so she forged prescriptions and finally resorted to buying heroin. This led to her arrest and incarceration. Her obsession with drugs caused her marriage to fail. Her husband divorced her and got custody of the children. She said that besides helping to dull her pain, the drugs also provided a short-term, but heightened, sense of euphoria and well-being. But each dosage of drugs lasted only a few hours, and with each use, the duration of relief seemed to lessen. She began to take more and more drugs and got caught up in the vicious cycle of addiction. Drugs became her life. The night before he talked with her, she tried to commit suicide. She said she could no longer deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. She felt trapped with no way out—with no hope.
This sister’s problem with prescription and other drug abuse is not unique; it is happening all around us. In some places more people die from prescription drug abuse than die from automobile accidents. Elder Ballard pleads with us: “Brothers and sisters, stay away from any kind of substance that may trap you. Even one sniff of something or one pill or one alcoholic drink can lead to addiction. A recovering alcoholic told me that just one drink is the difference between addiction and sobriety. Satan knows this. Do not let him hook you with his artificial lures that can quickly turn into addiction.
Perhaps most of us don’t personally identify with addiction to prescription pills – although I’m sure many of you have heard that Utah has the most addictions of this type. Perhaps you don’t identify with alcoholism or gambling or smoking or meth addiction. But there is a reason why our Church leaders are warning the Church — over and over — about addiction.
And we simply must listen!
I’m betting there are people in this room or in our ward or people who we are close to who struggle with and fight addictions every single day. They spend money they don’t have. They starve or exercise. And use diet pills or laxatives. They numb themselves or make themselves invisible with food. They work long hours instead of building a family and spiritual life. They use sex and pornography in ways that offend the Lord. They gamble. They use the computer and facebook and texting instead of building lasting relationships. They use anger and control to get what they want. They clean constantly. They abuse others or themselves. Most of these are not visible to the eye. Most people look — and smell — completely normal while being addicted to these things. But they are just as debilitating and devastating as other addictions that are visible and noticeable. And they are visible to the Lord.
Elder Ballard says, “Medical research describes addiction as “a disease of the brain.” This is true, but I believe that once Satan has someone in his grasp, it also becomes a disease of the spirit. But, no matter what addictive cycle one is caught in, there is always hope. The prophet Lehi taught his sons this eternal truth: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.”
Addiction takes so much away from our lives. Satan knows this. And he counts on it! Addiction takes away our hope. Addiction takes our faith. Addiction prevents us from feeling charity. Addiction steals our time. It diminishes our resources. It obliterates our peace of mind. Addiction warps our perspective. It takes away our desire to serve the Lord with all of our heart, and all of our strength and all of our mind. Why? Because addiction weakens our heart, and weakens our strength and weakens our minds. It clouds our judgment. It makes procrastination a way of life. It excuses our faults and shortcomings instead of encouraging us to work on them and turn to the Lord for help. In fact, addiction makes us feel as though we are not worthy to approach the Lord for the very help that we need.
Elder Ballard says, “If anyone who is addicted to any of these things and has a desire to overcome, then there is a way to spiritual freedom—a way to escape from bondage—a way that is proven. It begins with prayer—sincere, fervent, and constant communication with the Creator of our spirits and bodies, our Heavenly Father. It is the same principle in breaking a bad habit or repenting from sin of any kind. The formula for having our heart, our body, our mind, and our spirit transformed is found in the scriptures.
The prophet Mormon counseled us: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love; that ye may become the sons and daughters of God; … that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).
This and many other scriptures testify to us there is hope for the addicted, and this hope comes through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and by humbling oneself before God, pleading to be freed of the bondage of addiction and offering our whole soul to Him in fervent prayer.
Elder Ballard says, “To those who are dealing with an addiction, personally, or within your family, I repeat, fervent prayer is key to gaining the spiritual strength to find peace and overcome an addictive craving. Heavenly Father loves us — so personally and individually. He knows our struggles. Thank Him and express sincere faith in Him. Ask Him for the strength to overcome the addiction you are experiencing. Set aside all pride and turn your life and your heart to Him. Ask to be filled with the power of Christ’s pure love. You may have to do this many times, but I testify to you that your body, mind, and spirit can be transformed, cleansed, and made whole, and you will be freed.”
May we all be aware of the artificial flies being presented to us by the counterfeit fisher of men, Lucifer. May we have the wisdom and spiritual insight to recognize, discern and refuse his many dangerous offerings.
This is my favorite sentence in this entire lesson: The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
I pray that each of us will have the wisdom, the strength and the desire to do a personal inventory and see how our own lives can be bettered and strengthen by taking seriously this timely and continuing counsel from our Church leaders. And that we will know, with any kind of addiction, that there is hope, because God loves all of His children — especially you, and especially me — and because the Atonement of the Lord makes all things possible.