[Adapted from a talk I gave at Stake Conference, March 2016]
A couple of weeks ago for Valentines Day my good husband bought tickets to an event for couples. It was a presentation given by a local marriage and family therapist for the purpose of strengthening marriages. It was entertaining and just really enjoyable.
Part of that night they gave us lists of positive traits and negative traits, and the assignment was to go through these lists and circle traits that we personally identify with. This was for the purpose of better understanding how our spouse sees themselves. They turned on some music and everyone got to work going through these lists.
I started on the positive list and circled a few things here and there. It was relatively simple. I got to the negative traits list and began to scroll through all these words and columns of traits, scrolling and scrolling… and I got to the end of the list and nothing jumped out at me like “oh– I identify with ‘evil.’ I’ll circle that one.” There just wasn’t anything that really hit me and I thought, okay, I need to think a little harder. I’m going to look through this list again and dig a little deeper and be more honest with myself. I started going through the list again, still not finding much to circle. The time was almost up. Mark looked over my shoulder and noticed that I hadn’t done much with the negative traits list, so he said “honey, uh… I can totally help you with that part.” (We both got a good laugh!)
I had been sitting there looking at this list thinking “huh… I can’t find anything wrong with me. What is WRONG with me?” Here I am a Mormon woman in Utah, shouldn’t I have a list of my own? Shouldn’t I just know all my flaws and all my inadequacies just right off the top of my head?” I started to feel embarrassed that I didn’t have a bunch of things circled on the negative traits list, and I felt like I should hide my paper and not let anybody know that I didn’t circle a bunch of things. (“Maybe I’m arrogant… is that on the negative traits list?”) I was quite surprised to have difficulty choosing negative traits for myself; I didn’t expect it.
That night, I remember getting in the car and I felt at peace, and I actually was filled with some gratitude. It’s not because I couldn’t find things on the list to circle. It was because I realized something about myself, and that is this:
I realized that in recent years, I have been blessed with kindness toward myself, because I have gained an understanding that I’m part of a plan that is set up for my success in becoming perfected!
I understand that I am part of a plan
set up for my success
in becoming perfected, and it’s given me
kindness towards myself.
Had I been given this task at a different time in my life, I’m sure I would have had a different experience. I’m painfully familiar with feelings of inadequacy and the guilt that comes from making mistakes or from not doing something that I know should have done. I also know how easy it is to be hard on ourselves. I think this is especially true as members of the church because we have these lists of all the things we should be doing, and we’re not perfect, so we’re never quite doing everything that we should be doing, and then we know all these things we shouldn’t be doing and we mess up there too. We end up with this continuous sense of just never measuring up. It’s wearing on our souls. I think we can all identify with that at least to some degree.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said this:
Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .
. . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .
. . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. [CR, October 1976, 14, 16; “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, November 1976, 12, 14]
God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. So that sounds very nice, but what does that mean, “his grace is sufficient?” There is a talk entitled “His Grace is Sufficient” (where I got that quote from), presented at BYU in 2011 by Brad Wilcox. He uses an analogy that is really helpful for me in understanding how that looks in my life, right now- His grace.
The analogy he uses is of a parent providing music lessons for their child. The parent pays the music teacher in full, and then the parent turns to their child and expects them to practice. What is the purpose of practicing? It is to pay the parent back? No. Is it to punish the child? No. The purpose of practicing is change. They hope the child will change and learn something and grow into something that they weren’t before.
Likewise, we have been given this incredible gift of the Atonement. It’s paid for in full. It’s done. God expects us to practice. Is the purpose of our practicing (becoming like Christ) to pay him back? No. Is it to punish us? No. It’s for the purpose of change. It’s so that we can become something that we weren’t before.
Now, God knows that we are going to hit the “wrong” keys, that we’re aren’t always going to sound pretty and we might be really bad at practicing. He knows that. He also knows what we can become, because he’s our Father and He knows our potential. We are here to practice becoming heavenly.
I heard a quote this week that says “our belief in who we are becomes who we are.” Do we believe that we are children of God and that He has laid out a plan for us to become perfected? If we hold on to our weaknesses as though they’re part of our identity, can you see how counterproductive that is to the plan? There’s no strength or power in harboring self-critical feelings. If we can even just see a little glimpse of ourselves the way God sees us, we can be blessed with kindness and patience towards ourselves.
Doctrine and Covenants section 67 verse 13 says:
Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience [and I think ‘towards ourselves, and of course towards others as well, but continue in patience..] until ye are perfected.
It says “until ye are perfected” –that means it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen!
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155).
Brother Wilcox in the talk I referred to earlier said:
“So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).”
So, even though I know I’m not perfect, it doesn’t consume me because I have faith in my Savior Jesus Christ who has the power to transform me. We are on a path to perfection and it’s real. Yes it’s hard. There are really hard things, but Christ is with us along the way and the path is real! If we can just press forward in faith and continue to practice, our destination is sure! We know where we’re headed.
If we can believe that Christ healed the sick, caused the blind to see and raised the dead, that he can change water to wine– if those things are easy for us to believe, can we not also believe that he can transform us, and perfect us? And if that’s not exciting, are we really believers?
I know that Christ is my Savior. He is my Redeemer.
I will echo Ammon in the Book of Mormon when he said “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; …we will praise his name forever.” (Alma 26:10–12.)
I leave that with you in His glorious name, Jesus Christ, Amen.