Contending with Culture: Part III

fallThis conversation about culture started in my previous post about my friend Leslie who struggled with self-esteem. If you recall, her therapist mentioned cultural influences as one of the contributing causes to her persistent and damaging self-loathing. By using an example out of the scriptures, I was trying to convey that Leslie’s problem was not unique. The negative influences of culture have been intricately linked to the mortal experience since the Fall of Adam.

But culture need not be that thing which defines us.

As we saw with the Jaredites, God is ceaselessly striving to craft a personal curriculum to free us from those cultural influences that tear us down. He helped the Jaredites free themselves from their culture by putting them in barges. This forced them to learn that their quest for the Promised Land was not going to be within their control.

Sure, the had to build the barges. The had to pack the barges. This they could control. But the success of their journey was awarded them solely by God’s grace.

Will God treat us any differently? Is our culture any less destructive to our souls as it was to the soul’s of the Jaredites? I believe God wants to free us from the negative aspects of our culture just as He freed the Jaredites. This raises two questions:

  • What cultural influences do we need to guard against?
  • How will we recognize the barges God will require us to build to bring us to our Promised Land?

compareIn the case of Leslie, her cultural demon was the constant need to compare herself against what she felt the culture demanded of her. She developed an eating disorder because she heard persistent whispers that she was too fat. Her hyper-sensitivity to her weight led her to believe that any positive comment about her appearance was out of pity while any comment she perceived as negative was further evidence of her imagined obesity.

This powerful impact of ugliness spilled over to all aspects of her life. While she dedicated a lot of time honing her musical talents, she feared to share them because when she compared herself to others, she always fell short. She was convinced that she was just not good enough.

She constantly questioned her intellectual capacity because academics, by its very nature, is competitive. Though she did extremely well in all of her classes, her success never brought her joy because when she compared herself to others, she marginalized her own success.

I agree, Leslie was an extreme case. But I feel a cultural norm we all must conquer is our incessant need to compare ourselves to an unapproachable standard of success. So, if we define this as a problem, then what barge will God help us build to be free from this overwhelming cultural pressure?

I see two barges that God has provided us to combat this demon of comparison — one barge for the youth an one for the adults.

ChristFor the youth, and most especially for the Young Women, there is the doctrine of individual worth. We, as parents and teachers, need to help our youth understand that they are not only children of God, but that God knows and loves them as individuals.

He knows their names.

He is involved in the details of their lives.

Most important, God will never compare them to anyone.

Perfect love does not allow for comparisons. If we can clearly teach this concept over and over again, we will better position our youth to successfully combat the cultural requirement to compare.

templeFor the adult, our barge is the temple.

In the temple we are assured that God truly loves us as individuals. Each covenant we make, each blessing we receive is done on an individual basis, one-on-one and not as a group.

The temple separates us from the crushing demands of our culture. The temple is our vehicle to our Promised Land. As we take greater advantage of the temple we will shore up our personal strength and empower ourselves to work side by side with our youth so they can  successfully contend against our culture of comparison.

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