The internet decided to show me an ad for a five foot tall, giant-sized Jenga game. Looks fun, but I don’t think I need a 25lb bag of wooden game pieces in my garage. Ironically, getting it in and out of my garage storage would be like playing an even more giant-sized game of Jenga. I will say that thinking about this helped make a gospel concept clearer to me. You never know when or where that’s gonna happen.
I’m guessing that I don’t need to explain Jenga, but to be safe, here it is at its most basic: You build a tower of wooden blocks, then take turns pulling out pieces without making the tower fall. Simple enough.
Instead of working my way to the metaphor, I’m going to jump straight to it, because I’m not the first person to talk about Spiritual Jenga. Hopefully, I can add something more to it. Okay, the metaphor: The Jenga tower is like our spirituality, or our testimony. It is planted on a firm surface (foundation) and grows, “line upon line” until it is fully built. Where it differs is that in the game, you play it until the tower falls down. In Spiritual Jenga, we try and build a tower and maintain it forever.
The concern in both versions is that if you pull too many pieces – or the wrong pieces – out of the tower, it will come crashing down. (Singing: The foolish man built his house upon the sand...)
Let’s stipulate that our spiritual foundation is, or course, Christ. “…remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation…a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)
As members of the Church we have great opportunities to add more covenants and understanding to expand and strengthen our testimonies. One of the key ways is by making and keeping scared covenants, and by “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Article of Faith 3)
And finally we get to the point…
At times we are tempted to pull pieces out of our Spiritual Jenga Towers,” and hope that they remain standing. Not wise. Here is a personal example that I am loathe to share with you:
Over the past couple years, and especially during COVID, I have found myself being less cautious about what I watch on TV. There are lots of intriguing streaming shows and movies that have tempted me enough to occasionally pull a tiny piece out of my tower for a few hours at a time. Which piece is that? Not watching inappropriate media. (Condemn me not because of mine imperfection. Mormon 9:31)
Guess what? My tower is still standing. I still have a testimony of the Gospel. It didn’t come crumbling down. That’s good – right?
Yeah, but no.
While it seems like watching particular TV shows might be a seemingly small piece of my tower, I have found that it does have an impact. For me, I have sensed that the impact is that I have become a little desensitized to the Spirit at times. Cause for concern.
We have been taught, “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.
“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
Profanity, vulgarity, violence, crude humor and immorality on TV in our homes and lives all do the same thing: They chase away the Spirit. When confronted with crude comedy, a barrage of F-bombs, John Wick or zombies, the Holy Ghost will gracefully leave our homes and our lives, because He cannot coexist with those influences. We can choose which we want in our lives – but we can’t have both.
So, maybe that “tiny” piece of the tower is a bit more important than I give it credit for when I remove it for a couple of hours at a time.
Digging deeper: We have a pillar in our house that is between our kitchen and our family room. I would love to take a sledgehammer to it, BUT, before I do, I need to find out if it is a load-bearing pillar. I surely don’t want to knock it out and find the whole ceiling crashing down on me.
In our Spiritual Jenga Towers, there are some pieces that are load-bearing pieces. They may appear to be simple, mildly important concepts, but if we pull them, the tower could definitely come crashing down. For example:
Let’s say we have made the decision to pull the “Church Attendance” piece – for whatever reason. Maybe we’ve decided that Church just isn’t our thing. Staying home can’t hurt, right? Let’s walk it through:
If we don’t attend Sacrament meeting, we don’t partake of the ordinance of the sacrament.
If we don’t partake of the sacrament, we don’t finish up our repentance process, and we are perpetually carrying around a load of unresolved sin. “How grateful we are that the Lord has provided a means for each baptized member of His Church to be … cleansed from the soil of sin. The sacrament is a necessary part of that process.“ (President Dallin H. Oaks)
Suddenly that small piece looks a little bit more important. But wait! There’s more!
“By participating weekly and appropriately in the ordinance of the sacrament we qualify for the promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with us.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks
No Church = No sacrament = No repentance = No cleanliness = No companionship of the Holy Ghost.
Now that piece starts looking like a load-bearing pillar. The reality is this: If someone says that they don’t attend Church, but are still being guided by the Holy Ghost, fight the temptation to roll your eyes. It is a difficult and delicate thing to help someone understand that it simply doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way.
But there’s even more.
“Church leaders have also taught that when we take the sacrament, we renew not only our baptismal covenants but “all covenants entered into with the Lord.” (link)
If I never attend Church, I never renew my baptismal covenants, my priesthood covenants, the covenants I made when I received my endowment or my marriage covenants. ALL of the covenants I have made with God! Thankfully, the Lord knows I am not perfect and has provided a way for me to repent and renew all of those covenants each Sunday through the sacrament.
If I believed that I can forgo attending church and still have an intact eternal marriage covenant with my wife, I would be deceiving myself in a most tragic way, and would be in for a shocking, lonely surprise, eternally. (Unless I turn it around.)
Church attendance is not a small, unimportant piece that can be discarded – in fact, it is a load-bearing piece that is essential for our exaltation.
Removing seemingly small pieces from our towers can have consequences that can damage our lives and our chances for exaltation. The more I think about the “small” pieces, the more I realize that they are all tied together in support of the whole structure. It is too risky to try and excise any one of them. They all bear some portion of the load.
Is watching inappropriate movies or skipping church worth it? How about drinking ice tea? How about finding excuses to not wear the temple garment? To forgo paying tithing? Are we willing to have our Spiritual Towers come crashing down because of these seemingly simple, isolated things?
Once we start removing pieces in our Spiritual Towers, it gets easier to remove more and more, largely in part because the Holy Ghost is no longer whispering restraint in our hearts. Anyone who has played Jenga knows that if you remove enough pieces, the tower inevitably becomes too unstable and falls. It is the same with our testimonies. Remove too many key elements, and they cannot stand.
The point of the Gospel is to add to our Spiritual Towers, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little;” (2 Nephi 28:30) Not to remove a little here and a little there.
It is not for us to decide which pieces are important and which pieces we can remove. That’s the Lord’s job, and through His prophets, He has made it quite clear which pieces we should secure and protect: All of them.
It’s simply not worth the risk.