I live in the Middle East, so some of my favorite foods can be hard to find. There are a lot of imported Western products available, but there are still many of my favorites that are either very difficult or impossible to find. One is Cheerios. Plain, no-frills Cheerios.
One thing I love about living abroad is experiencing the support network among expats. We all know how hard it is to live in a foreign country, so we look out for each other, commiserate over challenges, and share tips and resources that make life easier.
A friend of mine knew I was desperate for original Cheerios, and so when she saw some being stocked at a grocery store, she texted me to see if I wanted any. HECK YES. She got me four boxes, and now I owe her my soul (I've already paid her the $24 for the four boxes).
What's funny is that there are several other varieties of Cheerios available in many stores: Multi Grain Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Honey Cheerios (not to be confused with Honey Nut Cheerios), Frosted Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, and I think I've even seen the abomination that is Yogurt Burst Cheerios.
It's odd to me that the derivative varieties are so available, while the original is ridiculously rare. Apparently demand for the trendy, flavored, sugary Cheerios surpasses demand for the original, which admittedly might be less palatable to the masses...but these are Cheerios we're talking about!
There is only one gram of sugar per serving of original Cheerios. There are TEN grams of sugar per serving of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios ... but it is actually has 13x more sugar than original Cheerios because of manipulated serving sizes. Multi Grain Cheerios, so strategically named, has 6x more sugar than the original, and despite their attractive "made with 5 whole grains" line, sugar is still the third ingredient. I won't even get into the Frankenstein list of ingredients required to make Yogurt Burst Cheerios.
Ready for the metaphor? Cheerios are like the truth. Original, unadulterated truth is hard to find. People want to sugar it up, dress it in attractive boxes, and add a bunch of other crap to it to make it more palatable. In the process, the product becomes less nutritious, eventually causing more harm than good.
The Lord said in D&C 132:22, "For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me." Truly knowing the Lord and His truth is hard; finding the way takes diligence, humility, and discernment.
You want religion, do you?
Most religious institutions are trying to sell you junk Cheerios. Why? Because that's what most people want, and it's what keeps the coffers full and the leaders paid. Just like some product developer at General Mills had the "good idea" to make Multi Grain Cheerios: Dark Chocolate Crunch (with ~40 ingredients), men have been inserting their "good ideas" into the gospel for ages.
"O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!" (2 Nephi 28:15)
The problems with having a spiritual diet of junk Cheerios are many: your spiritual palate atrophies and your taste for pure truth is weakened, false teachings crowd out truth (inhibiting progression), and false teachings cause spiritual disease (promoting regression).
When you are used to hyper-sweetened food, eating something unsweetened isn't usually enjoyable. The same is often the case with truth. If you are used to hearing how special you are, how it's okay to just try to repent, and how awesome the leaders are that you follow, it will not be pleasant to hear the truth that contradicts those ideas. But truth is not meant to be palatable, it's meant to reveal the glory of God and the path back to Him (even if it's a path different from the one you're on). If you insist on only consuming teachings that satisfy your carnal desires to feel special and justified in your sins, usually packaged in warm-fuzzy memes and devotionals and scripturally-deficient talks, you will remain spiritually malnourished and diseased.
"And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." (1 Nephi 16:2)
I stopped eating nearly all refined sugar about six months ago. After a few weeks, I was amazed at the level of discernment I regained for flavor and natural sweetness. Eating fruit was transcendent--the natural sweetness was layered and complex, perfectly balanced. I gained a new appreciation for savory foods as well as my cooking became more focused on fresh, whole ingredients. Instead of turning to salt, grease, and sugar for flavor, I learned to use things like lemon zest, fresh ginger, and spices to augment the natural deliciousness of my main ingredients. I may be stretching this metaphor too far, but the same process applies to truth. When you stop applying a harmful metric to teachings (Does it make me feel good in the moment? Does it satisfy my pride? Does it make me comfortable? Does it flatter me?), you are better able to discern the true nature and value of a teaching (Does this help me repent? Does this humble me? Does this increase my love for others? Does this help me experience the fruits of the spirit?).
"For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God." (Moroni 7:16)
Look at the "gospel" you are consuming. Does it validate your mediocre obedience? Does it justify you in "a little sin"? Does it encourage reliance on your leaders instead of your own connection with God? Does it downplay scriptures in favor of greeting-card-worthy truisms? Does it make you feel like you "are incredible" and are part of a "special and chosen" group/generation? Does it discourage a thorough examination of its doctrines and precepts and policies? If yes to any of these questions, your gospel is Cotton Candy Cupcake Cheerios.
"Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark." (2 Nephi 28:9)
Let me take this breakfast metaphor another step further (I can't help it!). Most people I know have their cereal with reduced fat milk. While some people may legitimately prefer the taste, most people reference concerns about calorie intake and weight control when explaining their choice. This is ironic, because people who consume full-fat dairy products tend to be leaner than those who consume low-fat dairy products and they also have a lower chance of developing Type-2 diabetes (source).
Whole milk has this magic component called FAT. It's not a bad word! Fat is crucial to making you feel satiated and helping control sugar absorption rates. So what happens when you take some or all of it out of your milk? Without the satiating fat, you're actually hungrier sooner, and you end up eating more calories than you would have if you'd used full-fat milk. The sugar/fat ratio is also thrown out of whack, so you start getting more of your calories from sugar (whether that's the lactose in your milk or the refined sugar in the candy bar you eat at 10am because you are starving). While of course natural sugars and carbohydrates are important, things start to fall apart when you have too much in your diet: weight gain, diabetes, blood sugar craziness, poor energy, nuclear holocaust, you get the idea.
The same effects can be experienced spiritually when we take a vital ingredient out of the gospel: repentance. Of course the "sweet" parts of the gospel are vital and necessary: grace, forgiveness, the love of God, etc., but when we insist on only consuming the sweet, we miss an important aspect of the gospel that is necessary to our obedience and progression. In fact, without the "fat" of repentance, the "sweet" of God's love is incomplete: to fully experience God's love and blessings in our lives, we need to align our will with His. Likewise, if you only consumed butter, you'd feel pretty crappy. "Repentance" without considering the love of God isn't really repentance, it's a Pharisaical fixation on sin, rules, castigation, and guilt.
The gospel consists of the perfect blend of spiritual nutrients. If you reject the need for repentance, you're left with a fluff gospel that produces no real progress. If you're scared of examining how far you really are from God because you think it will hurt, you're actually missing out on the amazing blessings that come from obeying the commandments. If you don't acknowledge the differences between your faith and the faith of those who wrote the scriptures, you'll never get your butt in gear and fulfill the amazing potential you have. Repentance brings light, joy, and love into your life. Do it!
Here's an exercise. Read the following and examine how you feel after each:
1) God is merciful to those who try. Each morning you can decide if you will do a little better and be a little better, and if you choose that better path, that is enough. Follow the light of our beloved prophet, and you will be blessed and your family will be blessed with prosperity and the peace of knowing you belong to God's one true church.
2) You are no different from the Pharisees, with your concern about clothing, outward righteousness, and commandments given by so-called religious authorities who take the Lord's name in vain by invoking His authority when He has not spoken to them. You neglect the poor, prize vapid entertainment over studying God's words, and justify your anger and pettiness towards your spouse, family, and strangers.
A Yogurt Burst Cheerios disciple will react emotionally to both. An original Cheerios disciple will check both statements against scripture, examine them with humility and the Spirit, and then make a judgment about both, perhaps making changes in their life based on their conclusions. Which are you?