Each for their own reasons, many women in my freshman ward suffered from eating disorders. To help them, our ward leadership invited a recovered bulimic woman to give a fireside. Although I have not personally experienced an eating disorder, a truth this woman taught has always stayed with me.
When discussing her eating disorder, she drew parallels to the story of Cain. In Moses chapter 5, Cain slays his brother Abel and declares, “I am free.” This is a hauntingly ironic statement, as this murder was the beginning of Cain’s bondage and suffering. Where he previously defined himself as someone that tilled the earth, he was now cursed that the earth would no longer produce for him; where the Lord had previously spoken with him, Cain was now “shut out from the presence of the Lord,” both on earth and eternally. Cain had thought freedom meant being free from his brother and gaining wealth, but by pursuing this flawed freedom, he lost everything and found himself in eternal bondage.
The speaker realized that for her, “freedom” had meant being thin, and she based her decisions around that. But she saw she had been just as blind as Cain. Her obsession with thinness did not make her free – she was in bondage to her eating disorder, was experiencing severe health problems, and had distanced herself from family, friends, and the Lord. Only the power of the atonement, coupled with professional help, allowed her to heal and live her life with true freedom.
I have thought of this parallel often. To me, Cain’s declaration “I am free” means not consulting the Lord as I form my definition of a fulfilling life, and taking matters into my own hands in how I pursue it. But I’ve come to see that true freedom and power come from becoming who I truly am, which happens as I learn and embrace God’s vision of my eternal identity.
I love that this lesson links Cain’s story with Enoch’s because it provides a powerful contrast. Where Cain distanced himself from the Lord in trying to pursue his own vision of himself, Enoch trusted in God’s vision of him and transformed into something he couldn’t previously imagine.
When the Lord called him as a prophet, Enoch wondered why the Lord would do so, citing his youth, unpopularity, and difficulty in speaking as strikes against him. These were clearly weaknesses that he felt keenly. But as Enoch shifted his focus to following God’s vision for him rather than his own, everything changed. Enoch’s weaknesses weren’t immediately taken away; we know that when he began preaching, “all men were offended by him,” and people gathered to see “the wild man” that came among them (Moses 6:37 & 38). His fears of being hated and disregarded were not without merit.
Yet the Lord fulfilled his promise to make Enoch into something more. Where Enoch used to be plain-spoken, Moses 7:13 states, “all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of language which God had given him.” Where he used to be hated, he helped the people become Zion, “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18). Where he was inexperienced, he led his people to become so righteous God could take them into heaven. Surely this was not what Enoch originally envisioned for himself, but as he strove to learn and embrace God’s plan for him, he became his best, most authentic self. He blessed many people, and he became truly free.
Reflecting on this story, Sister Sheri Dew taught, “I doubt many of us feel noble and great. But then neither did Enoch…As we come to understand [God’s vision for us], we will feel a greater sense of mission and more confidence living as a woman of God in a world that doesn’t necessarily celebrate women of God. We will cheer each other on rather than compete with each other, because we’ll feel secure in our standing before the Lord.” What it means to live as a woman of God will vary greatly from woman to woman, but as we help each other understand and pursue God’s plan for us as individuals, we build both ourselves and Zion.
I don’t feel like I have arrived at a complete understanding of my eternal identity and what God has planned for me. Perhaps it is something I will spend my whole life refining. But through time spent kneeling in prayer, pondering my patriarchal blessing, and reflecting on how God’s interactions in my life have shaped me, I have seen glimmers of it, and have felt the power, joy, courage, and real freedom that accompany that knowledge.