NOTE: I think this applies in a lot of aspects of life, but I want to speak to it especially in terms of addictions.
I’ve always really liked the war chapters in the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon. That might just be the “guy” in me that likes a good war story, but I also find that those chapters have some incredible ideas and thoughts on being a better person, staying safe (spiritually), and being strong.
One that rang true for me today was Alma chapter 55. This chapter has Captain Moroni and Ammoron finishing their negotiation for the exchange of prisoners, or rather finishing their failed negotiation. At this point, Captain Moroni decides that he’ll just go rescue his people instead of negotiating, and he does just that in a truly awesome way.
Towards the end of that particular chapter, we read this:
27 And it came to pass that they did, notwithstanding all the intrigues of the Lamanites, keep and protect all the prisoners whom they had taken, and also maintain all the ground and the advantage which they had retaken.
And then right after, we see this (I separated them because they are independently important):
31 But behold, the Nephites were not slow to aremember the Lord their God in this their time of affliction.
So let’s talk lessons learned…
It just doesn’t make sense to negotiate with your addictions or behaviors you are trying to change. Like Moroni working with Ammoron, Moroni quickly realized that Ammoron was just not going to play it fair or justly. More than that, Ammoron’s only intention in the negotiation was to gain even greater strength to continue the battle against Moroni and his people.
You can’t defeat your addictions or bad behaviors by negotiating. It just doesn’t work that way.
Intrigue and Tricking
The way that Moroni rescues his people is through tricking Ammoron’s army. In a psychological sense, we can often find a measure of success through tricking our brain into responses.
I once learned about the 10-second rule. No, not the food-on-the-floor rule. In this rule, the basic concept is that 10-seconds has a very real psychological impact on our ability to change our behavior. Basically, making something 10 seconds easier to complete increases the likelihood of doing it. Also, making something 10 seconds harder increases the likelihood of not doing it. This is the same principle that you see with people who put their running shoes beside their bed so they trip over them when they wake up.
Use the tools you have at hand. Addictions and behaviors don’t fight fair; don’t trick yourself into believing that they will.
Don’t Lose Ground You’ve Won
This is the principle from vs. 28. Be careful not to give up your hard won gains. I know for me, I often have great successes followed by miserable failure which triggers even more successes. Why not just have the successes?
In another place, Moroni says something to the effect that it is easier to maintain the ground he has won than it is to retake it.
I know it is often said in jest, but I find it sad when smokers jokingly say, “I can quit any time,” or, “I’ve quit X number of times.” The joke is, of course, that no they can’t, and no they haven’t. In other words, it doesn’t matter how many times you have won if you never win. The true win is permanent, changing, and lasting.
A quote I heard some years back that has really stuck with me is this idea that to become Christ-like is to change. It’s to accept His direction and His will and His goals for your life, and then change. We can never truly win (or change) if we keep giving back the ground we’ve already won. That’s the definition of a stalemate, and since being addicted means you’re losing, you’re stalemating on the losing side of the battlefield.
Don’t Fall Victim to Snares (vs. 29-31 above)
I remember the story of the snake when I was a kid. Basic retelling:
A kid is walking and comes across a snake that wants to get through a rough bit of ground (maybe climb a hill). The snake asks the kid to carry him, and the kid refuses saying that the snake will bite him. The snake of course promises not to, and the kid finally agrees. He carries the snake across the rough terrain and then the snake promptly bites him. As the kid dies, he accuses the snake of breaking his promise to which the snake replies, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
In Alma 55:29-31, we learn this same principle.
At the end of the day, we are agents unto ourselves. We can surely look heavenward and ask why me (as I’ve done many times!), but at the end of the day, if you make the choice to carry the snake, you and you alone are responsible for the consequences.
And one last lesson, which is really shown throughout the war chapters. Preparation. Moroni was always preparing. He was also fortifying. He was always adding more and doing more and encouraging and uplifting.
I think where I struggle most is this idea that I have absolutely conquered all my myriad problems and am therefore free. Such an idea typically lulls me to sleep in doing those things that would truly keep me free.
I do agree with the AA stance that suggests that alcoholism isn’t necessarily cured, but controlled. I find it inspiring when an AA member proudly announces they’ve been sober for however long because implied in that statement is the recognition of vigilance. Preparation. Caution. Awareness. Power (and that’s my favorite).
If you ever want to meet a truly powerful person, find someone who has faced down their addictions, conquered them, and grown from the experience.
And isn’t it nice to know that in none of this do we have to go it alone? One of the greatest lessons from the Savior’s Parable of the Lost Sheep is that He went in search of the lost sheep. He sent no underling sheephand in His stead. He went. The Shepherd. Does that not testify to His love and anxiety for our well-being?
I’ve long loved the war chapters in Alma, but I’ve especially loved the analogies of strength and real power in the face of terrible danger and suffering. If those chapters could be summed up in a single phrase, I think it would be “We can make it.”