Concussions: Physical and Spiritual

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Last week I was playing basketball with the kids in the pool and really whacked my head. Hard. It hurt, and I almost blacked out. A valiant effort to not curse, and some time lying down with an ice pack and I was soon back up and at it. It was the day of my daughter’s wedding open house in our home, and I surely couldn’t take the afternoon off.

There was a small goose egg on my head, and it hurt, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I was a little “foggy” though. No, I didn’t get it checked by a doctor. No, I didn’t get x-rays.  I’ve been hit on the head before, and this one didn’t scare me.

But it did concern me. Especially after we were running some errands and I turned right when I should have turned left. Twice. It was then I figured I probably shouldn’t be driving. I felt a little funny, and I could tell that something was a little wrong with my noggin. (This is also the reason that there was no blog post last week, for the three of you that might be wondering.)

By time the open house rolled around, I was pretty sure that I had sustained a small concussion, but I did not let it interfere with a terrific evening of friends and family. I was social and did my best to appear normal. (No wisecracks, please.) One thing I noticed: My EC and those that know me best could tell that I was not quite 100%. Something was off – but they knew I had hit my head and checked on me often.

I woke up Sunday morning with a headache, but with less fuzziness. By Monday morning I was feeling pretty good. I went to work and lady who I have worked with for over twenty years asked me how I was feeling. I told her I felt fine, but then asked her, “Why do you ask?”

“Well, Saturday night you didn’t seem right. Something about your eyes.” She replied.

That was unexpected, because I had not told her about banging my head, or the suspected concussion. She just knew me well enough to sense that something was wrong.

I’ve thought about that a lot this past week – how a relatively mild whack to the head can cause a subtle behavior change that most people wouldn’t notice. Only those who know me well could sense it. Even I had some trouble sensing if something was wrong, and how serious it was.

This got me thinking about the subtleties of the Spirit. What type of blow does it take to cause a Spiritual Concussion? You know, what kind of spiritual “hit” can cause a tiny change in our behavior. The influence of the Holy Ghost can be hard to discern at times, and the lack of the Spirit can also be tricky to diagnose. If a knock to the head can cause a change in the way I feel inside, and how other’s see me, surely a shot to the Spirit can have a similar result.

Wanting more specifics, I did some searching to find instances where the brethren have called out behaviors as causes of Spiritual Concussions: More specifically, things that we do that drive away the Holy Ghost. I found a bunch from General Conference talks.

• Getting Angry or Feeling Hurt

“Yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight”. Elder Richard G. Scott

“Contention in our families drives the Spirit of the Lord away.” President Ezra Taft Benson

This was an obvious one to me, because I have experienced it: I have literally felt the Spirit withdraw from me as I have become angry. What I didn’t expect is how Elder Scott teaches that our response to other people’s anger can cause the same Spiritual Concussions.

The Prophet Joseph Smith for example, could not receive any inspiration from the Lord unless he had the right feelings toward everyone. One morning he became upset about something his wife had done. Later, when he tried to translate some of the Book of Mormon he found he could not. Concerned, he went to an orchard and prayed, and then he came back to the house and asked Emma’s forgiveness. Only then was he able to translate. (link)

Like my physical concussion, often our Spiritual Concussions are discernible to those who know us best, or have a stewardship over us. We don’t live in a vacuum – even spiritually.

• Abusing our bodies – both physically and morally.

“We must never do anything to drive away that Spirit. Specifically, we should avoid pornography, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and always, always avoid violations of the law of chastity. We must never take things into our bodies or do things with our bodies that drive away the Spirit of the Lord and leave us without our spiritual protection against deception.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks.

I found this one extra interesting because just this past week I heard a podcast where someone made the argument that a cup of coffee is no big deal when there are so many “bigger fish to fry.” In essence, why worry about little things like the Word of Wisdom when bigger things like loving our neighbors are so important?

Obedience is not a “zero-sum game.” We don’t have the luxury of picking and prioritizing which commandments we want to obey. Elder Oaks makes it pretty clear that a cup of coffee does have the power to cause a Spiritual Concussion. And if one cup of coffee can do it – imagine what the regular consumption can do. Same goes for chastity-related things including pornography and modesty.

• Media Consumption

“Do we allow influences into our homes that drive the Spirit from our homes? The type of entertainment that we permit into our homes will certainly have an impact on the power of the Holy Ghost. Much of the entertainment of the world is offensive to the Holy Ghost. Surely we should not watch movies or television shows that are filled with violence, vulgar language, and immorality.” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.

It is naive to think that we can enjoy a hyper-violent movie and the presence of the Holy Ghost at the same time. Elder Wirthlin makes a far better case for what to watch that any Hollywood ratings board – but much more stringent. I recently saw another article floating around justifying R-rated movies. I have yet to know of one that does not meet Elder Wirthlin’s description. Is a two-hour Spiritual Concussion worth it?

I wrote a post about a young couple who felt like their home was possessed by evil spirits that is applicable. Here is the link: “Our Family Temple.”

• Being Crass

“Vulgarity and profanity offend the Spirit. Just as immodesty seems to be more common, so does vulgar and profane language. It used to be that only in certain places and with certain groups would we hear the name of the Lord taken in vain or hear vulgar words and crude humor. Now it seems to be everywhere and, for many, socially acceptable, where once it was not.” President Henry B. Eyring

I hate to admit it, but if I could actually see the Holy Ghost sitting next to me, I would probably tighten up my vocabulary a bit.

• Being Critical of the Church, the Brethren and each other

“Faultfinding, evil speaking, and backbiting are obviously unchristian. The Bible commands us to avoid “evil speakings.”  It tells us to “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you.” Modern revelations direct us to avoid “backbiting,” “evil speaking,” and “finding fault one with another.” 

We are given these commandments for a reason. The Apostle Paul advised the Saints to “grieve not the holy Spirit of God” by evil speaking. Of faultfinders, President Brigham Young said, “The Spirit of God has no place in such persons.” (Journal of Discourses,8:13.) The primary reason we are commanded to avoid criticism is to preserve our own spiritual well-being, not to protect the person whom we would criticize”. Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Basically, when we trash someone (maybe even online?) we give a hit to the Spirit and He leaves.

I posted five, but there are a lot more ways to cause Spiritual Concussions. Feel free to add more in the comment section – but be sure to include a reference.

Since I watch football, am a Steve Young fan, and have four sons, I know a little bit about concussions. One thing that is a little scary is that the more often you get a concussion, the easier it gets, and the longer lasting the effects can be.

I can’t imagine that it is any different with Spiritual Concussions. Repeated blows to the Spirit will have the same result: It gets easier to do, and the results are longer-lasting. In both cases the damage can be devastating.

The companionship of the Holy Ghost is one of our great treasures to help us as we roll through this life. So many of the things we do to lose HIs companionship are completely avoidable. I imagine there are times when He feels pummeled – I can hardly fault him for taking a break.

“From the time we receive the Gospel, go down into the waters of baptism and have hands laid upon us afterwards for the gift of the Holy Ghost, we have a friend, if we do not drive it from us by doing wrong. That friend is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, which partakes of the things of God and shows them unto us. This is a grand means that the Lord has provided for us, that we may know the light, and not be groveling continually in the dark.” (Lorenzo Snow In Conference Report, Apr. 1899, p. 52.)

“Several years after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, he appeared to President Brigham Young and shared this timeless counsel: “Tell the people to be humble and faithful and [be] sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 98).(link)

I need to make a better effort to stop taking shots at the Holy Ghost. I can’t afford it.

Additional resources:

The Holy Ghost as Your Constant Companion.” Henry B. Eyring (General Conference)

The Voice of the Spirit.” James E. Fauset (BYU Speech)

9 COMMENTS

  1. I DID miss your post last week. I am thankful it wasn’t more serious but when we feel “off” we know something needs to be reviewed so we feel “normal” again. I am thankful we can repent and have the spirit with us again. Thank you for this post.

  2. Players now have to (generally) go through a “concussion protocol” before they are allowed to practice or play in games, regardless of the sport after a concussion). It is important to allow the brain time to heal, because current thinking is it’s the secondary/tertiary concussions where damage really occurs.

    Perhaps your metaphor (excellent observation by the way) can be extended. One’s spirit needs time to heal before risking another injury. Too many concussions to the spirit might make the injury permanently damaging. Spend more time meditating, pondering and praying. Maybe more time serving in the Temple. Personally, there is no place more effective at healing the spirit than the House of the Lord. Extra little acts of service – more than is typical.

    The key to physical concussion protocol (in the current literature) is stillness. Perhaps the same thing will work spiritually? What helps my spirit be still… so still I can commune again with The Spirit.

  3. In all of your tongue-in-cheek humour, your bantering and well, just being human, you have a heart steadied by the Gospel and Christ, a mind centered in Him, and a soul that aches to share what you have learned. Thank you.

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