This is part 1 of my series "Cultivating a Heart Open to Life."
The Ancient Egyptians believed that after you died you would be taken before the God Anubis (pictured above with the jackal head) and your heart would be weighed against the feather of truth. If your heart was found to be lighter than the feather of truth it meant that your heart was good and you could pass on to your eternal inheritance. However, if your heart was found to be heavier than the feather of truth it meant your heart was not as it should be and you would be eaten by the Devourer, a part-lion, part-hippopotamus, and part-crocodile monster (pictured just below the right scale).
I have been thinking a lot about this Egyptian belief because, while obviously a bit absurd, the basic idea is grounded in truth. In D&;C 64:22 the Lord says,
“…I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men”
and D&;C 137:9 He says,
“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”
In fact, there are over 1,500 references to the “word” heart in the scriptures, many of them having to do with how our heart determines our relationship with God and whether we receive a blessing or a curse—or as the Egyptians would say-- whether we pass the test and gain eternity or are devoured by an evil hippopotamus.
There is one scripture dealing with hearts that I find especially interesting. It is found in Malachi 4: 5-6:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”When I read this scripture it always impresses me that Elijah’s job is to “turn” or in other words to “re-direct”, the hearts of the people to focus on the things that are most important to God. Elijah’s power is very specific and it is two fold: first, to open up our hearts with love for our fathers, those who went before us, and secondly, to open our hearts to our children, those spirits yet unborn.
Over the last several years I’ve been thinking a lot about this scripture and its ramifications for family planning and the creation of life. It mostly sprang from a desire to understand what the Lord wanted me to be doing in that area of my life. As I have thought about this (alot) I’ve noticed that in response to questions about family planning people often say, usually defensively, “Why do they care how many children I have or don’t have. It is none of their business.”
One hand people who say this are completely right; the choice of how many children to have is a personal choice; one that each person and each couple has the right to make. In fact, the LDS church’s official stance on birth control says,
“The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord.”God has different plans for everyone and for each family, and so the instructions God gives them about childbearing will never be the same. Lives, marriages, and situations are so diverse that there is no way we can judge the choices another person makes about family planning. In that way our choices about birth control and childbearing are completely personal.
Yet on the other hand people who say that it isn’t anyone’s business what choices they make about childbearing are completely wrong.
It is never true that our choices don’t affect other people, and when it comes to procreation our choices affect lots of people. Not only do our attitudes about procreation, and the personal choices we make about it, affect those children who are not yet born, but they also impact a family, a community, a nation and ultimately the world. Each person born or not born adds to the big picture, and each life matters. There is really no such thing as a private choice; all of our choices affect others in small and big ways.
In fact I’m not bothered anymore when people ask me, “How many more children do you want” or “Are you done having children yet?” because ultimately what that question is searching for is the condition of my heart. The person (whether they realize it or not) is asking me, “So, where does your heart stand in regard to the creation of life. Is your heart turned heavenward? Is it open, soft and full of love for those spirits yet unborn? Or is your heart focused earthward, closed, and filled with fear about bringing children to the earth?
And that is a question that is everyone's business, because the personal condition of our hearts matters. What goes on behind the closed doors of our bedrooms and within the quiet chambers of our hearts are some of the most important decisions being made each day. Our hearts shape the moral fiber and the direction the world is heading more than any decision made by a president, a government or judge on earth. Our individual choices matter because collectively they shape the world we live in and the world we are leaving for future generations.
As I have talked to hundreds (literally) of men and women about this over the last several years I have noticed that there are attitudes about procreation that are more fear based and ones that are more faith based. I haven’t looked on their hearts like God has and so I can’t-- and won't-- make any judgments, but I think that the language we use about procreation is really important and can often be indicative of if our hearts are open or if they are closed. For example, it seems fear statements often sound something along these lines (and just so you know these aren’t real quotes):
“We are done. I’d go crazy with more. My mom could handle a big family, but I am not her.”Then there are the women and men who are searching and have yet to discover (or to align their wills with) what God’s plan is for them and for their families. Often their responses are a mix of fear and faith and usually sound something like:
“We can’t afford anymore children. How would we pay for all those kids to go to college… let alone on missions!”
“I want to be done having kids. I just lost weight and I don’t want to do that to my body again.”
“I couldn’t possibly handle more, the ones I have are enough for me. Besides if we stop now we can be empty nesters by the time we are 50!”
“How do you know when you are done having children? Do you know or do you just decide you have enough?”On the other hand I’ve met women and men who, even though their circumstances are just as varied and complicated, it is obvious that their hearts are in a different place—that they are open to the creation of life.
“I'd like to have more but my pregnancy was so hard I don’t know if I can do that again.”
“I’ve had a spiritual experience letting me know that we have a little girl/boy who is coming to our family. But I’m afraid to get pregnant again because what if it is the wrong gender. I can’t just keep having babies until I get a girl/boy.”
“I’d like to have another one but my husband is done. He wants to be done with this stage of our life. Maybe it is time to move on. “
“We have (insert #) right now, and we don’t really know how many God has for us. I guess we will just see. Our hearts are open to more.”I’ve noticed that in these type of people you can see it in their faces and in their countenances that they are not torn inside, but are following God’s will for them and their families. That type of knowledge and obedience brings with it real power and strength that gives direction to them, their families, and others around them.
“I have had some health problems and I feel like we are done. Some days I am terrified at the thought of having another child, but I know that if it is God's will He will give me power to do it.”
“We have been unable to have children. I will take anyone that God will send me. Maybe we will be able to adopt.”
“I’d like to have more children, but the Lord keeps telling me “no”. It is confusing, and even frustrating, because I’m willing to have more children but the answer God keeps giving me is that I am done.”
“After my last child I was praying to know what the Lord’s will was for my family and I felt him tell me that they were all here. That I had gotten everyone I was suppose to bring to earth, and that the choice was up to me now. He’d be pleased either way. Little did I know that I'd end up adopting two more."
I think it is so important that we each examine our own hearts and evaluate if they are open, or as Malachi said, turned, to the children, and remember our responsibility to those who are waiting on the other side of the veil. In the end I don’t think it really matters to God how many children you have, when you have them, or how you have them. What matters is where your heart is at, and if you are doing all you can to fulfill the promises made in the beginning. Like it says in D&C 64:34,
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land.”Each one of us has a role to play and a choice to make in the direction the world. Will we perpetuate a culture of death, darkness and fear or will we embrace a culture of life, light and faith? It happens in each of our hearts and in our attitudes towards how we see and use our procreative power. It is a question that is everyone’s business because it effects future generations.
I am hoping that as I go through this series, which I am entitling “Cultivating a Heart Open to Life” I will help you come to see just how much the condition of our hearts matters when it comes to the procreation of life, and you will see ways in which you--personally-- can create a heart more open to life and light.
I realize that this is a very sensitive subject and that people have very strong opinions about these topics. I know not everyone is going to agree with what I have to say and I am okay with that. We can still be friends and have a grown-up conversation about it. Still, I hope that perhaps a little of what I share will sink into your soul and open your heart a little more than it was before.
Because even though the Egyptians were a bit eccentric, they did have one thing right. The condition of our hearts determines where we are going-- as individuals and as a people. If our hearts are hard and full of fear, then we are headed into a future full of darkness and death, but if they are full of light and faith we are headed into Zion—the pure in heart, a culture of glorious light, and everlasting LIFE.
Zion begins in our hearts.