What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Tonight in institute we talked about strings. The instructor gave an example of a sapling in a windy environment. If that sapling has a small string tied around it to guide its growth, it will grow up straight despite the blowing wind. If that string isn’t there from the tree’s young age, however, the tree will grow in the direction of the wind, slanted in the same direction, and only drastic, destructive measures will be able to change the grown tree to make it upright.
This story illustrates the importance of the proverb “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6) At a young age, when the clay is malleable, it is best to being training and teaching what truly is important.
The instructor mentioned five “strings of protection” in our own life, pulling examples from the book of Judges.
1. Safe Environment
When the children of Israel were allowed to enter the promised land, they were commanded to destroy its inhabitants due to their wickedness adn idolatry. Instead of complying, they didn’t drive them out and instead “dwelt among them”.
As a result, the Israelites were surrounded by those of another faith whose practices and lifestyles consisted of behavior expressly forbidden by God. Since we as humans are a product of what we surround ourselves with, it was inevitable that the Israelites become influenced by their neighbors. Indeed, they became a thorn and a snare to God’s people. Just as a thorn stops you in your tracks, the lifestyle and morals of these idolatrous and wicked people stopped the progression of God’s people.
I often hear the clichÃ© statement “Be in the world, but not of the world”. While viable when understood in the proper context, I think this quote can also be potentially misleading, allowing somebody to justify that we need to be in the “world”. I think this statement refers to our current physical location, not our circumstances, surroundings, and situations. We can determine what those are to be. Alma agrees:
Follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things” (Alma 5:57)
Are there things in your life that you need to drive out of your environment, so it is safe?
2. Parental Instruction
Like the children in King Benjamin’s era, the children of those who moved into the Promised Land rebelled against the teachings of their parents. They forsook the God of their fathers, the way of their fathers, their covenants, and their walk.
The scripture cited above for the children in King Benjamin’s era shows an interesting pattern with child development in the gospel. The children first did not believe. Because of this, it says they could not understand the things of God, and hence they wouldn’t obey and be baptized. You can’t fix the forest without first attending to the trees. A testimony starts at the root, with the “belief” portion coming first. And that belief in Christ is best fostered with the Book of Mormon:
Now, we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, etc. Our missionaries are not as effective unless they are “hissing forth” with it. Social, ethical, cultural, or educational converts will not survive under the heat of the day unless their taproots go down to the fulness of the gospel which the Book of Mormon contains. Our Church classes are not as spirit-filled unless we hold it up as a standard. And our nation will continue to degenerate unless we read and heed the words of the God of this land, Jesus Christ, and quit building up and upholding the secret combinations which the Book of Mormon tells us proved the downfall of both previous American civilizations. (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 63)
Have you forsaken something that is of importance and precious to your family?
3. Good Friends (and righteous women)
We should surround ourselves with those of similar standards and beliefs. As the german proverb says, “When a dove beings to associate with crows its feathers remain white but its heart rows black.”
The example for this “string” was Deborah the prophetess and Jael, who slayed Sisera (befriending the Israelites and supporting their cause). These friendships passed the test of adversity and showed where their true characters lie. The Book of Mormon also has couple examples  of the power of women.
Brigham Young had this to say about women:
[T]he male portion of the human family are the lords of the earth, and they are full of wickedness, evil and destruction, and especially in their acts towards the female sex. But God will hold them accountable. The fact is, let the pure principles of the kingdom of God be taught to men and women, and far more of the latter than the former will receive and obey them.(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, p. 249)
4. Faith in God
The story of Gideon’s army was used in this example to show a dependence upon and faith in God. God asks us to do large (and seemingly insurmountable) tasks that we might have faith in Him and rely upon His arm, and not the “arm of flesh”. Do we need to have faith in God that he’ll help us get dressed in the morning? No, that’s not hard to do. Do we need to have faith that a wayward child will return to the fold someday? Yes. If the challenges are not hard, we will not have to exercise faith. Gideon learned this lesson by defeating an army 450 times the size of his.
We didn’t get time to cover this last “string”, but I’ve previously posted about the power of making covenants, and it should be obvious how making covenants can be a supporting string to foster righteous growth in people of all ages.
These strings have the greatest effect when the tree (or person) is young and “bendable”. When the winds of society and culture have blown upon the tree (or person) for a long time, that tree (or person) leans in the same direction and solidifies its position more and more.
NOTE: While searching for a related quote I found my instructor’s entire lesson online at LDSLiving.com. He explains his own lesson far better than I did in my post! :)