Clearing Our Consciences

A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe for our niece's wedding. 

Tahoe's south beach

Every time I visit Tahoe, the lake's deep blue hues and clear water always surprise me. In summertime, we have taken our boat out on the water, and there---in the middle of the lake---I admire the beauty of the changing hues against the green of the surrounding pine trees. 

View from the north shore

This photo was taken from our boat in the center of the lake.

This photo was taken from our boat in Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay.

In the winter, we sometimes skied the slopes. We admired the dark silvery blue of the lake against the backdrop of the silvery white snow covered mountains.  

During one of our visits 10 years ago, we rode our bikes to a nearby museum. I was interested to learn Lake Tahoe's history and to find old photos that portrayed its pristine environment during the 19th century. If Tahoe's lake is clear and blue now, I imagined how it must have looked 150 years ago. I was surprised to learn the following: 

In 1858, European settlers discovered the Comstock Lode, a silver deposit 15 miles to the east in Virginia City, Nevada. From that time until 1890, logging in Tahoe's basin supplied large timbers to shore up the underground structures of the Comstock mines. 

The demand for wood in building the mines and towns was so extensive that loggers cut down almost the entire native forest. According to, the Comstock Lode consumed 600 million board feet of lumber for the two mines and two million cords of firewood for running the steam engines in the mines and mills. 

The cut logs were floated and thus covered much of the lake's surface to transport them to the mines. The watershed was also subjected to uncontrolled sheep grazing and cattle ranching. Sand and silt run off changed the lake's deep water clarity to murkiness. Evidence of this extensive logging and ecological damage can still be seen today.

Consequently, the pine trees explorer John Muir saw are not the same pine trees that we see surrounding Lake Tahoe today. Most, if not all of the trees are only about 100 years old. I was heartened to learn that preservationists worked to restore the forests at the turn of the century. Still, the prevailing attitude up into the 1950's was about humankind "conquering the land." In 1957, local environmentalists shot down a proposal to build a four lane highway around the circumference of the lake along with a bridge over the lake's Emerald Bay portion. (What were the road builders thinking?!) Unfortunately, during the same time, real estate developers were allowed to dredge out part of Tahoe's shoreline and build a marina and homes called The Tahoe Keys.

So, what's my point? A few things:

  • I'm grateful for the foresight and wisdom of environmentalists in preserving precious lands and resources for future generations. Their vision expanded beyond immediate gratification and profits for the greater good.
  • I'm grateful that humankind has become better stewards of our natural resources. We have more respect for the land and have more awareness of the fragility of ecological systems.
  • I'm grateful for those who have worked (and still continue to work) to restore and preserve Lake Tahoe's water clarity despite encroaching population and development. This preservation takes diligence and vigilance. (Every now and then I encounter bumper stickers that proclaim "Keep Tahoe Blue!")

What does this have to do with our consciences?

  • I'm grateful for the foresight and wisdom of our Heavenly Father in presenting the Plan of Salvation to preserve our precious eternal souls. This plan encompasses an eternal vision which expands beyond immediate gratification leading us to our eternal exaltation.
  • I'm grateful for the teachings and the atonement of Jesus Christ which allow me to repent and to clear---and keep clear---my conscience.

  • I'm grateful for the gospel that teaches me how to become a better steward over my body, my spirit, and my time spent on Earth. As I grow spiritually and become ever more sensitive to the Spirit, I have increasing respect for the necessity of the Holy Spirit to live by, to pursue, and to sustain a righteous existence.
  • I'm grateful for those who have worked (and still continue to work) in the form of ancient and modern prophets and apostles along with faithful women who teach, help, and exemplify to us the restoration and preservation of a clear conscience through principles of repentance; we can be washed clean and sanctified by the atoning blood of the Savior. This too takes diligence and vigilance.

Like the miners and lumberjacks who damaged Tahoe's ecosystem, the world offers us temptation and sin in many forms: Shiny silver and other precious metals tempt us to spend our precious time and resources in mining and acquiring worldly possessions, recognition, and power. Just as the silt from the silver minings clouded Lake Tahoe's clarity, so do our misguided efforts to attain worldly riches and power that often cloud our consciences. Says, Alma, "Ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel....for behold, ye do love money....and your fine apparel,....more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted..." (Alma 5:53). And, like the builders of the Tahoe Keys, we often let others pollute the shores of our consciences. We keep our eyes too focused on the opinions of others and not on Christ. 

Often times, other people resent our efforts to keep our consciences clear. It's human nature to justify our own polluted consciences and resenting those who attempt to keep theirs clean and clear. As a result, we often feel pressure to pollute our consciences to appease others. Thus, keeping our consciences clear often takes a lot of courage.

Undoubtedly, not all miners and lumberjacks were motivated by lust and greed. Most just wanted a job in order to survive. Still, the results created much damage. Our lives often reflect the same cause and effect. Our efforts might be noble----or even start out as noble, but destruction and mayhem is often the final consequence because of our imperfections and vulnerability to sin.

Finally, we all have various forms of pride. Our pride can come from our wealth (or our resentment toward those who do have wealth), our envy, jealousies, judgment, self-righteousness, insecurities, etc. And, like the actions of the lumberjacks, these forms of pride cut away at our self-worth making us more vulnerable to the resulting muddy run-off which further clouds our consciences. 

Got a muddy conscience? The first step to clarity is realizing and/or admitting to our less than clear consciences. There's hope, some pain, and great joy in the purification process because of Christ's atoning power.

Here's to cleansing and making our consciences clear!