My wife and I have to take it in turns to attend church on Sundays and this week it was my turn, which I always enjoy.
Being the first Sunday of the month, our congregational meeting was a bit different from normal in that any members of the congregation are permitted to walk to the pulpit and share their feelings of the Saviour and of His gospel. Today’s meeting was particularly enjoyable, and I came away feeling uplifted and with my own testimony of Christ strengthened.
During the meeting there was something our Bishop said that really chimed with some thoughts I’ve been having lately, and that was about limitations. He was talking about the balancing act he has to give between his family, his employment, and his calling as Bishop, and how it can be really hard to get right. This is especially true when one of these cranks the volume up and demands more attention.
I’ve never had such a demanding church calling as Bishop, but I’m no stranger to competing demands or with the pressure and stresses that come with them. And for me, at least, the guilt.
The guilt. Oh, the guilt!
Now I can do guilt really well. Like, I could win an olympic medal for guilt. I literally have I felt guilty for something that might happen 40 years in the future (but probably won’t) and about which I have no control. Nuts, I know, but everyone’s their own style of weirdo, right?
Anyway, you might not be familiar with that sort of exaggerated guilt (I hope you’re not), but you may well know about the guilt that comes from not being able to do everything that needs doing.
Maybe, like our Bishop, you have many competing demands and just can’t always give the attention to each of them that you’d like to – or feel you need to.
Or maybe you have physical, mental, or other limitations preventing you doing those things. For example, I haven’t been able to drive for a couple of years now, and that has really restricted what I can do: things I used to be able to do, and which some part of me still thinks I should be doing.
Or maybe it’s a combination of those, or something else entirely.
Whatever the reason for your inability to do everything you think you should be doing, and however hard you’re trying, there may well be a part of you that says, “But if only I tried a bit harder I could do more. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken those 30 minutes to read/sleep/chill, (or whatever it was you did for yourself) because that time would have been better spent doing something more productive.” And then maybe you start to feel a bit guilty about that.
My Psychiatrist and I have spent a lot of time talking about that. About how if I want to be able to support my family and help others, I need to look after myself. It’s the same for our marriage: if my wife and I want to really support each other and our children, we need to look after our relationship, and that means spending some time on it.
And we know all this in theory, right? We know that when the Saviour commanded us to love our neighbour like ourselves, there’s an implicit commandment in there to love ourselves. To give ourselves a bit of compassion. But how do we actually do it? That’s the difficult bit. How do we take that necessary time for ourselves, and then not feel guilty about how we could have spent that time fulfilling one of our many other responsibilities?
Weakness vs Perfection
I was reading in 1 Nephi yesterday, and something struck me. Nephi is talking about writing the plates. He tells us what he was trying to do, and then addresses the question of whether he has erred in making his selection of writings.
Now, stop and think about this for a minute. Nephi knows that the Lord has commanded him to make these plates. God’s commanded him to fill them with sacred writings that have an important purpose for some time in the future. And now he’s wondering about whether he might have made any mistakes in what he’s chosen to include.
If it were me, I would be wracked with worry about it and re-read everything… like, a hundred times, and then some more. Then I’d find a word that I think maybe should have been a different word, and would have thought, “Oh no! Have I ruined the Lord’s purposes by getting that word wrong?”
But I’m not Nephi. And what does Nephi say about it?
“And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.” (1 Nephi 19:6, my emphasis)
I don’t know how many times I’ve read that verse, but this time when I read it, I stopped. And I re-read it.
Hang on, I said to myself, Nephi is saying he might have made mistakes (in a book of precious scripture, remember), but he’s excusing himself of that.
Why? Because of the weakness which is in him, according to the flesh.
And then it struck me that one of the reasons we so often feel guilty about our own lives is because we don’t give ourselves the same slack that Nephi gives himself.
You see, we know that God has given us weaknesses: “I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble,” (Ether 12:27), “Lest I be exalted above measure…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh…” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
We know these things in theory. We know that we have our own weaknesses and short-comings, that the natural man is all too strong in us. But when it comes to practice, we raise our expectations of ourselves to perfection. And if we fall short, or rather when we fall short, we feel guilty. We blame ourselves.
But get this, by doing that, we put ourselves in an impossible position. We literally can’t attain perfection in all that we do. God Himself has given us weaknesses. By definition, we’re not, and can’t be, perfect. We can’t do everything we know needs to be done. We will make mistakes. It’s not just normal, or even expected, but inevitable.
It is only in and through Christ that we can be made perfect. And that, itself, is a process.
We try. We fall. We repent, get up and try again. Repeat.
And gradually we come to deny ourselves of all of our ungodliness. Gradually we come to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. Gradually, we come closer and closer to that perfection which only comes in and through Christ (see Moroni 10:32-33).
The Blame Game
I was reading another article this morning about how people look to blame someone when something bad happens. And the natural response to many people when natural disasters occur is to blame God. Indeed, whenever there is no obvious perpetrator to what we consider cruel or unjust treatment, people blame God, or use it as a reason to not believe in Him, “If there were a God, He wouldn’t allow this.”
The author goes on to write about how God ultimately willingly takes the blame.
But I don’t want to dwell on the issue of natural disasters and the like. Because it got me thinking. About our own lives. Our own weaknesses. Our own failures.
I’ve been officially disabled for a while now. I have all sorts of physical problems, not to mention my history of serious depression. Is any of this my fault? Have I done things in my life that brought these experiences on me? Or did someone else? Is it genetics? Why am I having these experiences? Who is to blame?
What about my children and the challenges they face? Do they suffer these things because of how I’ve raised them? Because of things they have seen in my life? Is that my fault? Who is to blame?
What about my sins? If it’s literally impossible for me to be perfect, then how much of the shortfall in my mortal performance is “my fault”? How much can I blame epigenetics? Or the impossibility of evading all of society’s values? Or my upbringing? Who is to blame?
But all of these questions miss the point. Maybe I did do something in my youth that kicked off my depression? Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I could have raised my children better than I have? Certainly, I can blame myself for at least some of my sins.
But even if there is blame to be had – wherever it lies, however serious it is, whatever the implications of it – none of that need ever matter. Because in the end, Christ has taken it all upon himself.
The one and only truly blameless person who has ever walked this earth, chose to take the blame of all of our mistakes, shortfalls, imperfections, and weaknesses.
It’s not His fault my body doesn’t work the way it should. But He took the blame. He took upon Himself the sicknesses and infirmities of us all. It’s certainly not His fault that I make mistakes in my life: that I find it just so hard to keep some of His commandments. But He took the blame. He received the punishment. He took upon Himself my sins and my transgressions, and your sins and your transgressions.
So next time you and I fall short, next time we can’t do something we’ve decided is important for us to do, next time we get that balance between all of the competing demands in our lives wrong, unless it’s a major sin or transgression, don’t be so hard on yourself. And even if it is something major, pick yourself up, repent, and move forward without then holding on to any of that blame.
Because He’s already borne it. Truly, I stand all amazed.
© Copyright 2018, Jeffrey Collyer