As we go through life, we embrace high ideals as standards that we value. I am confident that most of us do not perfectly live up to those high value standards. That can cause difficulty in our lives and can be a major form of stress. How do we deal with the discrepancy of a life lived at a level below what we would like it to be?
More aptly asked, how do we live up to those high value standards that we have accepted as being desirable and believe to be achievable? Is it even possible? The Savior taught, “Be ye therefore perfect.” Modern prophets have defined specific standards of behavior that help us reach for that perfection in our day and age.
For example, the Mormon Church has one of the highest standards of sexual purity both before and after marriage, than any other organization of which I know. The standard is total abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage. Failure to adhere to these standards is a cause for disciplinary action in our church.
Mortality means being less than perfect
Instead of focusing on the formal disciplinary aspect of failing to live up to the standards of sexual purity, I’d like to address the spiritual aspect of what it does to our souls when we find ourselves weak in this area. In particular, I would like to discuss what happens to our feelings of self-worth when we yield to temptation.
Obviously I cannot address this perfectly and include a woman’s point of view because I am a man, so I’ll stick with what I know. I especially want to deal with the idea of being virtuous in our thoughts in order to be worthy of the Lord’s approbation in connection with our efforts to exercise the priesthood as found in section 121.
I am an experienced sinner. I also like to think that I am fairly knowledgeable about repentance. Like just about every other human being, I awoke one day as a teenager to discover that I had entered puberty. No surprise there, but what was very surprising to me was the discovery of the power of hormones in my life.
Virtue and purity bring personal power
Although I don’t recall my parents discussing the idea of virtue with me when I was young, I do recall many lessons in Sunday school, Seminary and especially Aaronic priesthood classes that made it clear what the Lord’s standards are. I can say that I clearly understood that virtue and priesthood power go hand in hand.
I think it is wonderful that the Young Women’s organization in the church has added virtue to the list of Young Women values. I don’t know how it got left out of the original list when it was formulated. It was probably just an oversight. If there is anything that is needed in our youth today, it is an understanding of virtue.
So I can say that before I entered puberty and began to experience the powerful pull of raging hormones for myself that I understood clearly, at least intellectually, that I needed to control myself, to resist certain behavior and to focus on creating virtue in my life. That was a relatively easy thing until my body started to change.
Dealing with temptation
One day in school I was surprised to discover that when one of my friends brought pictures out of his wallet that he had cut from a men’s magazine, I found myself interested in seeing them. Whenever this had happened before I had always turned away in disgust. It surprised me when that disgust turned to very strong curiosity.
Now girls probably won’t understand this, or maybe they do better than I realize, but men are visually stimulated and aroused. It’s just the way we are made. So I found myself viewing these pictures along with the rest of my friends, yet all the while knowing that what I was doing was wrong and that I should turn away.
Over the years, I have come to realize that it is a rare man who is not interested in viewing the naked female form, or that can turn away when presented with such a sight. It takes discipline to resist what is only natural to the natural man (Mosiah 3:19). I knew that it was wrong but I couldn’t tell you exactly why at the time.
The effect of sin on our soul
No amount of lecture from a parent or teacher can prepare you for the feelings of guilt that are experienced the first time you do something that you believed you would never do. Perhaps I am just overly sensitive to guilt, but I experienced it big time that day. I felt miserable. I felt terrible. I could barely function in school.
And yet, what bothered me most was the fact that the images I had viewed kept coming back into my mind at the most inappropriate times, like when I was talking to a girl, or the next day in Seminary class while trying to study the scriptures. This was a new phenomenon, one that I was not familiar with, and it bothered me.
I also noticed that I was strangely argumentative and ornery with my family, and especially with my mother, as if I had a chip on my shoulder. Mother and dad looked at each other knowingly, but I didn’t get it. I did not understand why I was so miserable and did not connect it with viewing pornography the previous day.
Learning about repentance
Of course, I also had an intellectual understanding of the principle of repentance. I knew that when one sinned, one could repent, or turn away from that behavior, and the Lord would take away the feelings of guilt associated with that sin. Although I had sinned before, I had never felt the need to repent up to this time in my life.
Perhaps it was the nature of the sin. We are taught in the church that sexual sin is one of the most serious, although it takes personal experience to really understand why. What I intellectually understood about sin now became a reality as I felt the guilt, shame, embarrassment and sorrow over having put those images in my mind.
Everyone has different levels of tolerance for sin before they notice how it affects them. I have come to discover that my tolerance is very low. I wanted the pain of that sin gone from my life. I was especially contrite and humble as I partook of the sacrament the next Sunday. I swore in my mind that I would never do that again.
Summary and conclusion
And you know what? I felt an immediate relief after partaking of the Sacrament. I felt happy, light and relatively care-free again, at least as care-free as a young man just entering puberty can feel. I had a long ways to go before I learned to master myself, and in fact, I still deal with the pull of the flesh every day as we all do.
The response of many in the world to what I have described here will be to shake their heads in amazement. The viewing of porn is not looked upon as a problem and especially not as a sin. They do not value the standard of sexual purity and it does not mean to them what it means to us: virtue is the source of personal power.
The world does not have the high standards that we do. We have taken upon us ideals that are difficult to achieve, and in some cases almost impossible. It is the Lord that has set these standards and it is the Lord that makes it possible for us to repent each time we fail to live up to them. Forgiveness truly is a miracle.
Related content: Healing from pornography addiction