I learned something big in Hebrew School the last few weeks. I usually do learn something, that’s why I love it, but I mean I learned something big. Big enough I have twirled around in my head for almost two whole weeks. Big enough I had to bring the pieces to the Temple, just to sort out the edges of the puzzle so that the Savior could put together the hard part in the middle, just so I could see the picture.
It was in the story of Abraham and Lot.
Verses from the King James Version of Genesis (chapter 13) read like this:
5 ¶And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.
6 And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.
7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
8 And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.
9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
Compare to the Hebrew:
ה…..וְגַם-לְלוֹט-הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת-אַבְרָם: הָיָה צֹאן-וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים׃ ו…..וְלֹא-נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו: כִּי-הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו׃ ז…..וַיְהִי-רִיב בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-אַבְרָם וּבֵין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-לוֹט וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ׃ ח…..וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל-לוֹט אַל-נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין רֹעַי וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ: כִּי-אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים אֲנָחְנוּ׃ ט…..הֲלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ לְפָנֶיךָ הִפָּרֶד נָא מֵעָלָי: אִם-הַשְּׂמֹאל וְאֵימִנָה וְאִם-הַיָּמִין וְאַשְׂמְאִילָה
Basically, the story we all know is that Abram (not yet Abraham) traveled with his nephew Lot, and legally got land from the Canaanites. However, they both were so blessed that their numbers (in people and in flocks) grew so much that the land they had could no longer support them. Relating to this, the Genesis accounts only state there was “strife”, as in contention and arguing and mutual frustration. So Abram plays it cool, letting Lot take his pick of one part of the land, and Abram taking the other part. This is how they go their separate ways, which is always the part of the story we focus on – because we know what comes next, that Abram remained faithful to his covenants while Lot got himself in a nasty mess amongst non-believers. So usually we use this text to teach the importance of remaining set-apart, which is always how we are made-holy, so that we can become the people of holiness.
But it turns out, there is way more at-one-ment-ness happening, way more peace-making happening, before we ever get to the set-apart-and-holy part of covenant living.
Here’s the thing I never knew before, mostly because it comes from Jewish midrash (Genesis Rabbah 41:5) tells more to the story, from oral tradition and their hermeneutics, saying that the conflict goes back to the promises given to Abram. This land, which they legally bought and shared, was promised to Abram, specifically that it would go to his descendents. This is before he has children (and before the Canaanites were removed from the land, which was part of the promise), and so Lot does rightfully believe himself to be the rightful heir of Abram’s inheritance. This is the conflict, that Abram wants his own land and needs Lot’s people and flocks to stay on their own part of the land, while Lot feels the land is already his and so is taking advantage of his inheritance before it is claimed.
Here’s the issue: Abram feels Lot is taking advantage, claiming his inheritance too early, and being unethical, while Lot does not understand what the problem is or why there is drama about it.
That is fascinating, to understand those layers.
But it’s still not the part that struck me to my core.
Abram had the legal and lawful right to push Lot out of the way, to declare war, to demand Lot’s people and flocks move aside, to force Lot off his (Abram’s) land.
But forcing is Lucifer’s plan, not Jehovah’s.
So instead of forcing, and after Abram had already discussed the matter with Lot directly, Abram realized that Lot was dealing with his own personal issues, not going to be honest, and not going to repent.
But instead of giving Lot what he deserved (kicking him off the land), and instead of declaring war on his own family, Abram offered peace by letting go of what he had every right to defend, and parting ways. He held his peace (see Matthew 26:63 or Alma 14:19). Except he did not just remain silent, but like Abigail and David (1 Samuel 25:24), Abram offered something, gave something, made a peace offering (giving Lot the land of his choosing). This is the atonement in action!
Never have I noticed this before!
Before I got baptized, I knew enough from my studies, meditations, and professional perspective that I knew and taught people that when something was unhealthy and unwell – in a not-getting-better kind of way – or dangerous, to let it go. Walk away. Run if you have to, but don’t put your soul-life at risk. I preached that in nearly every blog I wrote back in the day (which says how much I was running from, no doubt). I knew just enough to know that my soul had to be protected at all cost, no matter what.
I had been through enough to know I would cease to exist if my spirit were squashed.
But after I got baptized, it seemed that if I really believed all of us born on earth were children of my heavenly parents, then I had no business running around calling other human beings “predators”, no matter what they did to me or other people, and regardless of ongoing, consistent behavior patterns.
So I stopped.
I tried to eradicate “predators” from my vocabulary, put on my Pollyanna smile, rolled up my sleeves, and set to work trying to learn how to be nice, how to be kind, how to love. I felt it was a sincere effort, so it was not selling myself out, faking for superficial rituals, or hanging myself out to dry. I really did want to learn how to be kind, and how to love, and how to be nice – the real nice, not fake nice.
Know what happened when I started trying to believe that there were no predators?
I got stuck. Confused. Lost. Betrayed. Trapped. Eaten alive.
And I spent more than a year spinning my hamster wheels trying to figure it out.
I have cried and cried broken-heart tears, prayed for help and begged for wisdom, and made it all worse the harder I tried to figure it out.
Until I went to Hebrew school this week.
Until I brought the broken pieces of me, along with the new pieces from Hebrew School, and came to collapse in a heap at the Temple, the house of learning, to let Him put them (and me) back together again. It was the Humpty Dumpty of the last three years of friendship failings.
I had, earlier this year, finally figured out – because of my Relief Society President’s emphasis on the atonement, and all the things I read and studied about the atonement this year – I did finally figure out that both concepts (pre-and-post-baptism) were correct: we are all children of our heavenly parents, but it is also true that some people are not healthy or well or good for me.
But I could not figure out how to resolve that, since I am commanded to love all of them.
I know it is a simple thing for most of you who are already decent human beings, but this was big stuff for me to untangle and try and figure out in a healthy way.
So I had finally figured that piece out, that people could be children of our heavenly parents and still also be, at the same time, unhealthy or un-well, or not good for me. It makes my brain spin, because why would any of us ever be cruel to another if we really understood who are parents were, who we were, who other people were, who we could all become?
But part of mortality is the ability to choose whom to follow, and sometimes we choose poorly.
Even me. Especially me.
That’s what brings us back to Lot.
He really was doing his very best with what he knew at the time, the way he understood it. He really thought it was his land, his inheritance, and that he should use it to grow his current flocks to increase that inheritance. It makes sense when you look at it from his perspective.
But he also pulled a Korihor, which makes it less surprising that he later ended up in trouble with sexual sins as well as a whole host of problems and consequences. Besides moving outside the covenant (tempting himself to deny the atonement), he refused to discuss the problem, and declined priesthood help to resolve it. He was sign seeking in that he took another’s promise as his own, using it as a sign that he was favored and blessed by substituting himself as prophecy fulfillment.
Lot is being a bully, and pulling every manipulative string in the book.
This is where we learn from Abram.
Abram doesn’t “bite”. He doesn’t get sucked into the drama.
But he also doesn’t run away, cut them off, or punish them for their bad behavior.
Running away does not offer charity (the pure love of Christ), cutting them off is not serving them as Christ would serve them, and it is not his job to punish them.
Abram understands these things, miles ahead of me. So what does he do?
He does the most un-think-able, most un-American thing to do: he negotiates with the terrorists.
He makes peace by giving them what they want.
But he does it in a good, healthy boundary-setting kind of way.
Notice that even in peace-making, he keeps good boundaries. This is very important, and part of what makes all the difference. He keeps good boundaries in several ways: by not giving them everything (he keeps some of the land, too, but does let Lot have first pick), and by not giving away himself (he doesn’t do anything that breaks his covenants, nor does he do anything that puts his covenants at risk), and by not putting himself in danger (he keeps enough land that he still has resources for himself and his family, and he separates in such a way that no one declares war on anybody).
This is what we learn, this is the pattern we see: Abram loves Lot (by letting him have first pick of the land), serves Lot (by providing him with enough space that he can thrive), and does not punish Lot (but lets him experience his own consequences).
This is the piece I was missing: that there is a place beyond just stopping the trauma-drama, and a moment that is bigger than just not-making-things-worse. Getting out of a bad situation is a good thing, but we can do more. We can make peace.
It’s all about the atonement!
My pre-baptism intuition and professional knowledge knew how to rightly call a predator a predator, and had the guts to call a bully a bully. I knew enough not to let the life get sucked out of me, but only at a very basic and primal level that looked very childish anytime it played out.
It’s good to recognize danger, but I am not a child.
I don’t have to run away, hide, or pretend it can’t see me just because I cover my eyes.
My post-baptism self was right in understanding that we are each a child of God, and should be treated as such. No matter what. And not because the other person deserves it, and not demanding good treatment because I deserve it. But me treating others well, not even considering whether they deserve it, because I know who we all are and who our Savior is and what He did for all of us.
What I was mixing up was assuming that children of God would not be mean and ugly and hateful, or even dangerous. We shouldn’t be, of course, but sometimes we are. And sometimes other people are to us, and our feelings are hurt or we are left injured and wounded and unsafe in their traps. And sometimes, especially in the world where people do not yet understand who God is who they are, people can even be dangerous.
But there is still a pattern of peace.
What sorted me out were these two (three) things:
1. Reading Callister’s Infinite Atonement and listening to The Peacemaker, both of which taught me the new (to me) concepts that not only does the Atonement cover my sins and also the injustices of sins against me, but also that I can be Christ-like by making peace with those offenders despite the injustice against me; and
2. Studying this Abram and Lot story, where Abram acts out the atonement for us by refusing to make war against his family (burying his weapons of war! See Alma 24) and instead giving them something to make peace.
Do you see?
He doesn’t just not-cause war.
He also offers peace.
This is like the atonement because it is not only mercy (not giving what we do deserve, not causing war), but also grace (giving what we don’t deserve, offering peace).
This is big.
It means everything about setting boundaries is true: boundaries are good and necessary, and being set-apart is part of the process of being healthy and being holy.
But these boundaries can be set in healthy and holy ways, by offering peace, by being like the atonement and offering them something they cannot do for themselves, even when still needing to separate, like Abram and Lot, and go your different ways.
Separating isn’t bad, evil, quitting, giving up, or letting go.
(NOTE: I am not talking about marriage relationships separating, as in this example Abram did nothing to put his covenants at risk. But it could still apply to marriage relationships in taking a time out for ten minutes to cool off before discussing a hot topic, or going together to separate from the drama by seeking help from a Bishop or a professional, or separating from my own bad behavior that makes relationship work even harder than it already is, or stop doing things that impede or interfere with building and strengthening positive relationships.)
I can separate me from what is not-good, not-healthy, not-well, and be set-apart (which is to be made holy), without running away or hiding, without being afraid, and stand in that holy place and not be moved. I can be a grown-up, and see clearly what is good and what is not, what is truth and what is not, what is healthy and what is not. And I can do that while still keeping my weapons buried, and without causing war. I can do that and make peace, at the same time.
It’s classic differentiation, in a way I never saw before, at a whole new level. It’s knowing what (who) is True, no matter the context, situation, feelings, sensations, or experiences happening to me or around me. It’s power to push back the walls of a tornado-hurricane of chaos and trauma-drama, to stand in the eye, to hold that center and boldly declare, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). It is not being overwhelmed by the world around me, not being confused by the “stuff” of others, not being lost or abandoned or harmed by the failings of others because I can be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10 and D&C 101:16), no matter what.
What others do is irrelevant as far as defining who I am, and what they say does not describe me.
What others do defines them, and what others say describes them.
Our words and actions reflect what is in our own hearts, and they do not have the power to define another person or describe them or condemn them.
Understanding this takes the power out of their weapons.
It also holds me accountable for keeping mine buried.
Because I should not un-bury my weapons, ever.
We are never to directly engage the enemy unless expressly and directly commanded to do so (D&C 98:33, D&C 98:36), and to attempt to do so without permission or authority only causes destruction because we are out-of-Order and it is we ourselves denying the atonement no matter who “started” it.
It doesn’t matter what has been done to me or said to me or what has hurt my feelings. It feels real, and it hurts, that is true – and important to acknowledge, so that it does not fester until I become my own enemy. But the acknowledging comes not in accusing the guilty party, but in offering it to the Savior who has already paid the price of that injustice and will fight our battles for us (1 Samuel 17:47; D&C 76:61; D&C 98:37; D&C 136:30). And since he has already paid the price, and since he is fighting the battle for us, we must let it go and let Him work His atonement the way only He can do (D&C 98:39). If I really do this, really and truly, then there would be nothing left in me that is ugly or mean or has cause against anyone, no matter what trauma-drama may have gone down. And if there is nothing ugly or mean in me, then I am at peace, and have only good-ness and peace to offer.
If I can offer peace, like Abram, then the Enemy (or even the foolishness of others) has no power over me (even when it stings). This is how the atonement provides a way for me to be obedient and keep my covenants, even in keeping my weapons buried (D&C 44:5). This is what makes it possible to offer peace.
And that’s what takes us back to Hebrew school, where we can read about the peace offerings in Leviticus 3:3-5. Other verses, the midrash, and commentaries all talk about the peace offering being a thanksgiving offering, a praise offering, a gratitude offering. We see in verse 5 that this offering is “a sweet savour unto the Lord”, and in Hebrew it reads as if it is most-satisfying.
It is most-satisfying, because there is no sin in it.
It is most-satisfying to the Lord, and to us.
It is not just an offering of peace, as in not-war, but an offering of fellowship.
Abram offered fellowship by separating ways with Lot and letting him experience his own consequences, rather than losing the relationship to contention.
It is fellowship, or communion, or the entering of God’s presence, the being at-one.
There is always more, and this is the “more”: if we truly offer peace, then we also offer love.
Abram offered love (always demonstrated by action, must be shown through some service) by letting Lot choose the land he wanted, being sure he was provided for, and returning to help him later when those consequences caught up with him.
Abram did not give in to contention, but also did not abandon Lot.
But he did stand firm in holy places, was not moved from his covenants, and found a way to offer peace.
This is the pattern of love.
And when we offer love, it is “most satisfying” – to us, to them, and to God.
Instead of focusing on what Lot was doing wrong (stealing the inheritance that wasn’t his yet), Abram focused on where Lot was in his line-upon-line and what he could do well thus far (working hard on the family business). He provided a way for Lot to practice what he could do well, so that he would continue to improve. In this way, Abram loved Lot the way the Savior loves us, and instead of condemning him or punishing him or abandoning him, Abram was a silent example that invited Lot to grow beyond his foolishness and return to his covenant keeping.
In our Daughters of the Kingdom book, there is Joseph Smith quote on page 23:
Don’t be limited in your views with regard to your neighbors’ virtues. You must enlarge your souls toward others if you’d do like Jesus. As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand – let them be enlarged towards others – you must be longsuffering and bear with the faults and errors of mankind.
This is at-one-ness, of the most-satisfying-sort, to recognize others are on their own journey, and to love them along it – without losing our own footing, without knocking them off their ladder of line-upon-line, and without mocking them from the high and spacious building far above where they slowly crawl forward towards the tree of life.
This is what it means to offer peace: to love them well.
This is at-one-ness, to be on the same journey, together, following the same Savior.
That is most-satisfying.