I will heal them

The great philosopher, Jeff Foxworthy, is well known for his “redneck jokes.” For those who are not familiar with the term “redneck” because you are, oh I don’t know, British our something (my wife was born in England), a redneck is a rural American known for having an overly simple lifestyle.

For example, according to Brother Foxworthy…

• If your wife has ever said, “Come move this transmission so I can take a bath,” you might be a redneck.

• Or if your kids take a siphon hose to school for “Show and Tell,” you might be a redneck. (“This end goes in the red jug, and this end goes into the gas tank of your neighbor’s car.”)

• You might be a redneck if, when asked for your identification, you show them your belt buckle.

(“See? Right here it says, Tom, T-O-M. Now mam, that don’t make no sense at all! Why would I wear some other feller’s belt buckle?”).

Actually, as a Native American who has lived my whole life in Alaska, I have to admit that I don’t really know much about being a redneck, but unfortunately I am quite experienced at being a stiffneck.

In fact, if you were to look up stiffnecked in the Bible dictionary, you’d see a picture of me.

And my belt buckle.

Stiffnecked is often used as a synonym for pride or stubbornness, but stiffnecked actually refers to people who will not bow their heads in deference to God.

Stiffneckedness is the mindset of “MY will be done.”

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, here is a quick self check to help you assess the stiffness of your own neck:

• If you find that you drive differently when a police car is in sight, you might be a stiffneck.

• If being told what to do bothers you, you might be a stiffneck.

• If you don’t like apologizing or admitting when you are wrong, you might be a stiffneck.

As you can see, being a stiffneck is no where near as funny as being a redneck, but that doesn’t seem to stop most of us from being stiffnecked anyway.

To better understand stiffneckedness, let’s go over three of the many scriptures which talk about stiffnecked people.

(1) In Heleman 6:3 we read, “Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.”

To expound a bit on this scripture, I know that the last person you want on your basketball team is a stiffnecked player. I don’t care how good a player is, if a player can’t be coached, that player will always lead the team to destruction. And the funny thing is, every time I have seen a dominate but stiffnecked player lose, the stiffnecked player always thinks it was everyone else’s fault. “Hey, I did my part,” they tell themselves, “It’s the other guys that didn’t step up.” The same holds true for a ward, or a family, or for any group of people striving together for the same goal: because stiffnecked people cannot be coached,  they will always destroy the team.

(2) In DC 112:13 we read, “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.”

To expound on this scripture, the hard times in our lives are really wasted times if we choose to go through them with stiff necks. I really wish we would mention this scripture more often when we talk to the youth of the church about how to get a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Developing our faith is not just a matter of studying the scriptures and having meaningful personal prayers. The level of our spiritual conversion is also directly dependent on our ability to soften our hearts and not stiffen our necks — especially as we go through temptations and tribulation. We come to know God through our extremities, but only if we allow it.

(3) In Deuteronomy 10:16 we read: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”

I will NOT be expounding on the meaning of that particular scripture. 😉

I will say though: if you choose to be circumcised, whether it be circumcising your heart or, well, something else, you are making a commitment that has no reverse gear. Consequently, if you decide to “be no more stiffnecked,” you need to decide it once and for all and apply it to all circumstances, not just some. For instance, don’t be a team player at work but stiffnecked at home. Don’t be cordial when interacting with peers, but nasty in anonymity on the Internet. You can’t get half a circumcision, so don’t try to be a part time stiffneck.

Years ago someone close to me, who shared my faith, deliberately wronged me in a very hurtful way. Utterly reeling from the incident, I confronted this person, but this person did not show the slightest degree of remorse. To the contrary, this person smirked and said in the snidest voice you can imagine, “Guess what? You have to forgive me, or YOU are guilty of the GREATER sin!

For those who may not be familiar with the scripture this person paraphrased, it is found in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 64, verses 9 and 10:

9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin (Emphasis added).

10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

What was once hurt and disbelief instantly became anger.

I stormed away and found a quiet place where I could be alone for a bit. Those words stuck in me like a knife, so I looked up Doctrine and Covenants 64:9 and read it, as if to see if there were any loopholes, exclusions or contingencies.

“Obviously,” I thought, “This is the one trial in my life where the scriptures will be of absolutely no help.”

Hoping to preoccupy my mind with something other than how terrible this person was, I grabbed a book and began to read. It was no use though. Although my eyes dutifully moved over the words, lines, paragraphs and pages of the book, not a word of it displaced my thoughts of how much I had been wronged.

The problem was, the more I thought about how terrible this person was, the more I wondered if I was even worse because of my inability to forgive.

“Could it be true?” I wondered. “Could it be that there is no wrong that can be done to me that is worse than me not forgiving them for it?”

At first I told myself that this scripture probably didn’t apply when we were deliberately and egregiously wronged. After all, there was no way any reasonable person would say that my inability to forgive was even one-tenth as bad as what was so spitefully done to me.

Nevertheless, something in me whispered that my viewpoint on the matter wasn’t quite God’s viewpoint.

I don’t remember how long I struggled with this question, but I do remember it was an intense and difficult inner struggle for me. Finally I decided I needed to set aside my will, and embrace God’s on this matter. After all, His track record of being right in my life was a lot better than mine.

Looking up I said out loud, “Mine really is the greater sin. Not my will, but thine, be done.”

That’s when it happened. Without any warning, I burst into tears.

And by tears, I don’t mean the kind of tears you get when your teenager unexpectedly thanks you in a testimony meeting. These tears came with such force that I literally collapsed to the floor in full-out sobs — weeping both for my stiffneckedness, and for the difficulty I was still having at that moment trying to forgive.

Philosophically speaking, there was nothing I could do about what this person had done to me. I could not undo it. I also knew that I would never stoop to trying to get that person back; revenge has never been in my nature. Seriously, the only pragmatic thing I could do was surrender my will to God’s.

While the choice to forgive someone is a decision, it is also a process, and some processes take time.

I had a long talk about everything with my Heavenly Father. When I rose from my knees, I still had every problem I had before I knelt. No magic fairy dust solved any of my problems, nor had any plan of action to fix things come to mind. Nevertheless, everything had changed. The difference was I felt like I was with God, and that He was with me, and as a result, at some point down the road, everything would all be alright and work together for my good.

The great philosopher, Anonymous, once said, “Don’t look where you fell, look where you slipped.”

When I am honest with myself, I can see that, whenever I have fallen, the point at which I slipped was when I was locked into a “My will be done” mindset, and not “Thy will be done, and the glory be Thine forever.”

If most of your wardrobe has logos on it, you might be a redneck.

If you have ever been fired from a construction job because of your appearance, you might be a redneck.

If you have ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor, you might be a redneck.

But if you would rather be right than be kind, you might be a stiffneck.

And if you have ever made a hard time of your life even harder, you might be a stiffneck.

And if you have not fully forgiven someone — or a group of people for that matter, then it is time to be honest with yourself. Yes, they were wrong — and probably continue to be wrong — but the rest of the truth is that failing to forgive is wrong as well. Moreover, failing to forgive prevents you from healing and being converted.

“And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.” (DC 112:13).