Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weak and Worthy of Perfection

I sat anxiously across from the owner of the company. He was positioned behind the desk in his office, accompanied with books and files and drawings. His appearance was very professional. I was intimidated. The principal owner had lots of experience while I had nothing but my willingness to offer; no experience, no skill or ability. I was just eager. My eyes were on him, and his eyes were on my résumé.

After perusing my small offering of ability, the owner asked me a number of questions. I don’t recall any of them now. I only remember the urgent need to find a job. My fiancé had recently accepted my proposal of marriage, but I had very little to offer her, only my willingness. Similar to the lyrics by Paul Simon, “I was as empty as a pocket with [everything] to lose.” My position was pretty weak. Fortunately, Liz had a lot of faith in me, and the interview was just enough.

The owner hired me. Deep sigh of relief. He took my weak position and limited ability, and he gave me a chance. It was an opportunity to show how I would perform for a short period of time. He made it clear that I would be on probation to see if the arrangement would be a good fit. I was grateful but still nervous. So much depended on landing and keeping my first real job. Everything hinged on my willingness to follow directions.

Some of my first assignments were pretty basic. I was the go-to person for tasks that didn’t require any experience. These tasks included sweeping the backroom, running deposits to the bank, and picking up lint off the floor. I was asked to keep the fax machine loaded with paper. I had heard of fax machines, but didn’t have a clue about how to use one, let alone keep it stocked. There were a few frustrating moments that required others to have patience with me as they taught me how to do small tasks. My job description matched my ability, but at least it was a start.

I felt very tenuous the next couple of months as I performed my duties, always wondering where I stood with my employer. Would he keep me? Was he satisfied? Did I meet his expectations? When he didn’t talk to me, did that mean that he was unhappy with me? I went home every night with some worry that I might be looking for another job soon. Again, fortunately for me, Liz and my employer had faith in my ability, and it was just enough.

As I started my follow-up interview, I was almost certain my employer was unhappy with my performance. I doubted myself and I let fear govern my thoughts. I contemplated the worst case scenarios and what I would do next. Contrary to my fears, the principal of the company reviewed my progress with me and thanked me for my work. He then asked me to continue with the firm. In an instant, my confidence was renewed and hope was restored. I could hardly wait to tell my fiancé that things were going to work out. So much of my attitude depended on that single validation.

Now that I, myself, am a principal in an architecture and planning firm, it is wonderful and gratifying to see how far I have come. I started at the bottom, and I continue to grow. There are many areas of experience I wish to develop, but they will take time, patience, and practice. While I am confident in my abilities to provide professional services, I am also glad I do not see a ceiling to my growth. There is plenty of room.

My current successes sometimes block out the memories of inadequacy I once felt, but they do not negate how real they were. I was quite worried. My fears were unfounded and without validation from my employer, but they were constant until I had some assurance. This memory reminds me of another experience I frequently have with inadequacy. However, my chair has moved to the other side of the desk.

On a regular basis, my responsibility in the church I attend allows me to meet with individuals who are preparing to worship in a Holy Temple. Part of their preparation involves an interview in which I ask them some questions about their worthiness to enter the Temple. The questions are simple and focus on their faith and ability to live a life patterned after the Savior Jesus Christ. The last question tends to generate some feelings of inadequacy in many instances, yet it is very important. “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?” Most of the questions I ask have short and confident answers. This last question often generates some discussion.

What does it mean to be worthy? Worthiness is not to be confused with perfection or holiness. Instead, worthiness represents adequate merit, worth, or value. It does not imply “arriving at the top.” The word should suggest our pursuit of that goal, and not the destination. The key word for me is “adequate,” meaning just enough. If I am required to have adequate faith, I do not need to have perfect faith. In fact, faith the size of a grain of mustard seed is adequate as long as my actions are “just enough.” I will still pursue this endeavor of increasing my faith, but it is not the measure of my worthiness.

Feelings of worthiness are often hampered by feelings of inadequacy. When we feel deficient or fall short of someone else’s expectations, we often feel that we lack worth or validity. We doubt ourselves without reassurance and a measure of validation. When we begin to lose confidence and question our worth, it is much easier to focus on our weaknesses. These are the moments where I feel that “weak” and “worthy” are at opposing sides of the desk, one scrutinizing and the other being scrutinized. However, I do not feel that this is always necessary.

Weaknesses, though not fun to admit to or deal with, can be a great blessing to the eager disciple of the Savior Jesus Christ. They become a gift when we see them for what they are. Yet again we find another application of our faith. I do not believe it is possible to have this clear of vision without faith in the only person who ever lived a perfect life in mortality. Believing in Jesus is believing that what He said is true, and that the words of His servants are also true.

Frustrated with his own ability to write, the prophet Moroni pled with the Lord over his weaknesses. The Lord responded, “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)

I can’t say that I like to admit that my weaknesses are a gift from God. To do so admits a responsibility and a stewardship. It is much easier to pray that our weaknesses are removed than to pray for strength to deal with them and master them. Once I begin to see with an eye of faith, however, the personal growth I have been hoping for is met with greater success. These accomplishments are items that are good to include on a spiritual résumé.

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to church members in Corinth, described how the Lord had given him “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble. Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove this trial. The Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then states, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. …for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

It wasn’t until after Paul heard the Lord’s explanation that he took pleasure in trials and afflictions. I don’t know that the experience became any more pleasurable than before, but Paul had faith that the Lord would lead him and make him stronger. I think some of the strength that I admire in Paul, is not just his ability to endure trials, but in his choice to submit willingly. The beauty of what the Lord told Moroni is that He will supply us with this strength when we humble ourselves before Him and have faith in him. Thus, the hardest part to admitting our weaknesses is not to find strength, but in deciding to have faith. Once we do, the Lord will provide the grace, the strength, and the witness that we desire. But it is only after we turn to Him and allow our faith to be tested.

Moroni further compares this type of faith with that of the brother of Jared’s. It is the ability to see with an “eye of faith,” or to receive a witness and see the things that we first believed. (Ether 12:19) This is another key to rending the veil of unbelief, to believe without seeing. When we begin to see our weaknesses for what they are, as gifts from God, we are entitled to His promise, “And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.” (Ether 12:37) It isn’t just seeing our weakness, but seeing it with an eye of faith that merits the promise.

If we wish to have the faith of the brother of Jared, the conversion of Peter, and the strength of Paul, it all starts with the faith to become. Not only do we become converted, we become worthy. It is our faith the Lord wants, stored up in our hearts. If we are willing to offer this gift, it is enough. It is adequate. Then His grace will cover our debts, our sins, and our transgressions. Both Paul and Moroni stated that His grace is “sufficient” to save us when we have faith. I find it interesting that the word sufficient also means enough.

It is one thing to worry about being worthy to enter the Lord’s house and worship Him in the Holy Temple. It is another to wonder if I am worthy to enter the presence of God and live with Him again in heaven. I do not believe it insignificant that the Holy Temple is the house of God, or the place where God dwells. Whether it is His dwelling here on earth or our home in heaven to which we hope to return, we should be diligent in doing enough to be worthy of both. This would suggest that a worthiness to enter the Lord’s house would equate to worthiness to return to His presence. I believe this to be true with one additional validation – the key to truly being worthy.

The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that, “It is impossible for man to be saved in ignorance.” (Doctrine & Covenants 131:6) It is God’s will that we know where we stand before Him. To this end He gives His children the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As the Lord taught Adam, “by the Spirit ye are justified….” (Moses 6:60) The Holy Ghost will not only confirm the validity of truth, He will confirm to us that what we are doing is either right or wrong. He will bear witness to our spirits and let us know when our path is pleasing to God. In this way, when we feel the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit near to us, we may with confidence know that our will is aligned with God’s.

Rather than feeling inadequate or worried about whether we are worthy to obtain the highest degree of heaven, we can ask the Lord where we stand and receive His own validation. In a revelation on the Holy Priesthood, the Lord further taught Joseph Smith an important key. He said, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:45)

With charity, the pure love of Christ, and virtue, which is a conformity to righteous principles, we can stand confident in the presence of God. This confidence isn’t because we become anything of ourselves, but because we are doing more and more of what God has asked us to do. The more we become obedient to God and focus outward on His children, the more confidence we can obtain. He is the source of true confidence. When we do what He has taught, there is no need to fear. When we put our trust in Him, He will see us through our trials. And then, “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:46)

As we consider the commandment of the Savior to “be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect,” we are met with a paradox – we are to be humble but confident, weak and yet strong. The paradox becomes clearer when we remember how Father wants us to grow. He wants us to turn to Him and rely on Him for strength.

Without a focus on God and the assurance from the Holy Spirit that we are making good choices, worthiness could be measured by simply marking a checklist. It would then be too easy to be like others the Lord has warned against. “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith–History 1:19)

When we put our trust in the Lord with an eye of faith, we do not have to be afraid of being weak. He will make us strong. When we become strong as we are doing only that which He has asked us to do, we need not fear being too confident, not if our confidence comes from Him. When we acknowledge that all powers, gifts, and blessings come from God, He will give us more which in turn will eliminate all our feelings of inadequacy. When we are willing to submit to His will, one choice at a time, it is just enough to get us moving in the right direction.

Feeling inadequate is an experience I would rather do without. Whether it is interviewing for a job, preparing to go to the temple, or preparing to go to our heavenly home, having the right assurance makes all the difference.

I felt a lot of anxiety over my first job. I wanted to know if my work was acceptable. I hoped I was going in the right direction. Most of all, I wanted to know that I was going to make it. Now, more than wanting to keep a job, I want to be faithful in keeping the Holy Spirit as my constant companion. So much of eternity depends on keeping our second estate here on earth. Everything hinges on our willingness to follow directions during our mortal probation.

Perfection is a lofty goal, but it can be obtained, at least eventually. I don’t have to feel inadequate because I am not there yet. I can still be worthy of God’s promised blessings. With an eye of faith, and an ability to see our weaknesses for what they are, we can be worthy without being perfect. In this way, we become worthy of perfection. We do this in spite of our weaknesses, and often with them. God is willing to take our weak position and limited ability and give us a chance to work for Him in His kingdom. When He validates our worthiness by the presence of His Holy Spirit, we have nothing to fear.


Tawna said...

Great post.

John said...

Thanks for reading, Tawna. I am glad you enjoyed it. I'm a lot less afraid of my weaknesses than I used to be. Being honest with yourself can be frightening at first, but it results in a lot more courage and assurance.

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