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I’ve had plenty of experiences with feeling like nothing. In retrospect, most of them were directly related with ignoring a prompting, or with failure to feel and show charity (either to myself of others). Let me give you some common, mundane examples—first of disobeying a “small” prompting.
One day (years ago) I felt a distinct prompting to tighten the lid of the honey dispenser. My four little children had been especially demanding and I had ten things I still wanted to do to prepare for the Relief Society lesson I had to give the next day. I ignored the prompting. A second later I grabbed for the honey and was halfway across my carpeted kitchen before I realized I was leaving a trail of honey clear across the floor. While on my hands and knees scrubbing up the sticky honey, I knew that even in this tiny thing the Holy Ghost had done His part to spare me this unnecessary clean-up—and I had not paid attention.
How many times have I experienced consequences far more spiritually significant than honey messes through my disobedience? Each time I disobey, I diminish my feeling of worth and increase my own sense of my nothingness.
In Helaman 12:7-8 we read, “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea even they are less than the dust of the earth. For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.”
All the elements obey, all God’s creatures obey—only man is disobedient, only man is capable of feeling like nothing.
Obedience Always Increases Sense of Worth
Obedience to promptings, on the other hand, is the pathway to feeling like “something.” Obedience often brings experiences that remind us that God is mindful of us. I learned this early on. I was only 17, driving on a dark country road about to cross an unmarked railroad crossing when I heard an urgent voice in my mind that said “Stop!” I put on the brakes and sat trembling as a train rumbled past me—not two feet in front of my car. After calming myself, I thanked the Lord and felt an overwhelming sense of awe that He was mindful of me and desired to prolong my life for some purpose.
Another unforgettable example of that principle in my early life happened when I encouraged a young man I was in love with to go on a mission. I knew it was right for him to go, no matter how hard the separation. I knew we were being obedient. I felt wonderful. When I accepted a mission call three years later, I felt that same swelling, transcendent feeling. All through my mission, as I listened to the Spirit, my sense of being in the right place doing the right thing gave me the most solid sense of self I’ve ever known.
Obedience that leads to companionship of the Spirit is the best esteem builder known to man. And having the Spirit with us opens the door of our hearts to charitable feelings and actions.
The Vital Charity Component
The most scripturally prominent component of “somethingness” is charity. We are told several times in the scriptures that without it we are “nothing.” For example, 2 Nephi 26:30: “Wherefore the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.”
One day I went out to lunch with some friends. We got a waitress who was unfriendly and whose service left much to be desired. Soon the topic of conversation turned to her lack. I listened, then added fuel to the fault-finding fire. The very instant I did so I felt a distinct sinking feeling. I shrank. My light diminished. I felt small.
I later reflected on that feeling. I thought of the “nothingness” scriptures and somehow knew that as uncharitable actions multiply, they add up to nothingness. I suspect this is the common root of the self-worth problems in our dart-throwing, insult-trading society. The political dialogue in regard to immigration, same-sex marriage, unbalanced budgets, etc. offers vivid examples. Uncharitable words and actions not only create division, they create deep inner unrest in all those participating. It really is true that there is no better way to feel like nothing than to act in unloving ways toward others. Without God, without the companionship of the Spirit that gives us charity, we are nothing.
In 1 Corinthians 13-8 we read:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Is there any more perfect formula for happy living, for transcending our nothingness, than cultivating the Christ-like elements of charity?
Sweet Fruits of Charity in the Smallest Things
I remember a day when a clerk was absolutely snippy with me. How happy I am to be able to relate that this one day I had the presence of mind to think about what often precipitates that kind of behavior. Perhaps someone close to her had died recently, I thought. Perhaps she had a sick child and wanted desperately to be with him or her instead of at work. Perhaps her husband had just left her. I looked at her kindly and said, “You must be having a hard time right now. I’m sorry.” The change in her countenance was amazing. She seemed to be fighting back tears and the rest of our interchange was filled with mutual kindness and appreciation. I left that store feeling ten feet tall.
Without charity we are nothing, but with it we are everything because we are “standing in” for the Lord, doing what He would do if He were there in that moment.
The power of charity is astounding. In a fear-shackled world there is no more important principle to consider. Mormon, in his epistle to his son Moroni said, “Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God and I fear not what man can do for perfect love casteth out all fear. And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love” (Moroni 8:16-17).
King Benjamin’s Words
King Benjamin is one of my heroes and his great sermon to his people has often awakened my heart to spiritual things
In Mosiah 4: 5-6, he said:
For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body— . . .
He concludes this powerful discourse in verse 11-13:
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
We live in a world that cries for lack of kindness, that falters and fails for lack of charity. What a great service we can render by nourishing and developing these character traits in every contact with our fellow human beings.
Moroni’s Discourse on Charity
In several powerful sermons, Book of Mormon prophets give us powerful reasons to seek charity in our lives.
In Moroni 7:44-47 we read:
If a man be meek and lowly in heart and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity, for it he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have chairty.
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh not evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
In verse 48 Moroni tells us how to get charity, and tops off the reasons we should want it:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ, that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we may be like him, as he is that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”
Transcending and Transforming
Each step of obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, each time we obey promptings of the Spirit, we open the doors of our hearts to charity. We BECOME charitable. We transcend nothingness and BECOME something. Moroni says, “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God” (Moroni 8: 25-26).
Alma gave us such a perfect example of the power found in obedience and charity. He said, “Yes, 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”(Alma 26:12). Alma was able to “do all things” because he transcended the nothingness of the natural man through obedience and charity. No more important goal exists for us as we seek to be disciples of Christ.