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Do you ever feel spiritually inadequate? Do you sometimes feel that the Good News doesn’t quite extend to your set of failings? Do you suppose that your repeated and deliberate misdeeds put you beyond His redemption? Do you believe that maybe He wants to help you but you have disqualified yourself?
There is a special group of conscientious and earnest saints who chronically feel unworthy, who see themselves on the outside of holiness longing to be on the inside. Though we all sin, some feel it especially keenly.
I know something about the feeling. It is how I often feel. I have begged the Lord for help with shaking the gloomy feeling. In response He has taught me powerful truths.
Satan is strategic. He knows that the saints who are sensitive and are serious about holiness are most vulnerable to a specific strategy. The evil one encourages us to tally our blunders, to wonder why we keep failing and keep making the same mistakes. Why do I keep hurting people? Why am I addicted to sweet rolls, bad movies, and judgmental thoughts? Why do I make such a mess of my life? Why can’t I do better?
Burdened by Failure
There really is only one reasonable conclusion to this line of reasoning: I’m just not celestial material. Maybe I can join the “honorable men of the earth” who are not “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” in terrestrial glory. But sometimes I’m quite sure that I will join the “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” in suffering in the spirit world before being paroled to the telestial kingdom. (See D&C 76, esp. vs. 75, 79, and 103)
The curse of sensitivity is chronic self-discontent. Spiritual perfectionists sag under the burden of self-disappointment. Such saints feel like second-class citizens who don’t quite belong with the spiritually successful. Thus Satan drags many down to a living hell.
But none of these condemning messages—real as they seem—are from the Light and Life of the world. Perverse as it may seem, self-loathing is one of the surest evidences of a strong spirit. It is those with glory in their souls who hate the burdens of fallenness. It is we who love God who hate our offences against Him.
Learning from Great Repenters
What is God’s counsel to those of us with this affliction? I have tried to draw lessons for my fallenness from great Book of Mormon repenters.
Nephi—sweet, devoted, righteous Nephi—opened his soul to show us the pattern for turning burdened fallenness into heavenly rejoicing. Though we commonly consider him to be a model of righteousness, apparently he did not. When he was tortured by his wretchedness, his iniquities, and his sins (See 2 Nephi 4:17-18), he found renovation by turning to the source: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” His sorrow and grief were immediately transformed into shameless joy. “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:28). Chafing in self-deprecation was replaced with rejoicing in Jesus! His psalm is ideal for reading aloud when we feel burdened and despairing. He teaches us beautifully that we should focus on His goodness rather than our fallenness.
Alma is one of my favorite repenters. In the midst of a life of destructive sin, he threw himself completely on the mercy of Jesus and was flooded with powerful, healing experiences. I have felt something like that myself. At those times when I implode with self-loathing, I have learned to use Alma’s words: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” I have been shocked by the heavenly embrace that comes immediately and intensely when we throw ourselves on His mercy. I think we should utter Alma’s prayer every day.
Ammon was a partner in crime with Alma. After his own transformation and missionary service, he taught the healthy attitude about ourselves and God. We live in a time when self-celebration is standard practice yet he knew that the only way to find heavenly joy is to put our focus on God’s goodness rather than our own fallenness: “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. 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; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.” All of Alma 26 teaches us the power of focusing on God.
These are three of my favorite Book of Mormon repenters. They have taught me a pattern—a pattern that I keep forgetting when Satan gets me looking downward or inward rather than upward and outward. I want to use the principles more effectively to “give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:28). The pattern involves:
- Recognizing that fallenness entails messiness. Most of the messiness is not really a declaration of who I am; it is an evidence that “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). I must not let dismay in my fallenness thwart my yearnings for redemption.
- Changing the focus from my wrongs to His rights. He redeems us from our sins. No amount of self-hatred can cure my brokenness. Only He can do soul-surgery. I should praise His name day and night.
- Recognizing my desperate need for help, I call out for mercy. “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” This is a frank recognition that I cannot fix myself. Throwing ourselves on His merits, mercy, and grace opens the door to becoming true disciples of Christ.
- Welcoming my failures as a heaven-sent invitation to grow. My failings are not cause for humiliation and discouragement but challenges for learning and progression. I love the Lord’s invitation: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
When the Lord says that “he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious,” (D&C 78:19), “all things” surely means not only blessings but also difficulties and imperfections. We rejoice in our weakness as the spark that directs us to God.
Our default setting as humans is to be unsettled by every evidence of our fallenness. God seems to suggest that we welcome the evidence as an invitation to repent and grow—to open a place in our souls for more of His glory. He reveals the holes in our souls. He is poised to fill them with grace and goodness if we will let Him.
So now, when I confront a personal failing, I try to turn directly to Him, ask Him what He would have me do even as I plead for His healing. I can choose to be discouraged or defensive or I can choose to be healed.
But even though I know these principles, I must confess: Life and fallenness still knock me down at regular intervals. I get surprised by my capacity for thoughtlessness, stupidity, narrow-mindedness, and selfishness. And that surprise quite naturally leads to despair. But when I have gotten sick of feeling sorry for myself and have sought Father’s counsel, I always hear the same encouraging and inviting voice:
“Come to me. Learn from me. I can make you holy.”
And I declare in utter disbelief with my fellow repenter Ammon: “Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?” (Alma 26:16-17)
Any attempt to reassure myself by dwelling on my qualities will always be undone by my conspicuous fallenness. But a focus on His goodness and grace will give me energizing hope. I know to what source I must look for healing.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her sensitive and insightful editing.
Friends, may I ask a favor? Recently I shared a link to my new children’s book, God’s Trophies. It features a wonderfully illustrated, joyful story that helps children to learn about gratitude for all of God’s creations and teaches them that they are each God’s most beloved creation. (The book would make an excellent Christmas gift for any special people in your life!) If you decide to purchase this book, would you be willing to post a review on Amazon? I would greatly appreciate it! And, if you think your friends might be interested in the book, perhaps you could share the Amazon link with them.