What’s Worthiness Got to do with It?
By Marvin Payne

I had an odd gift of insight the other day. The shower gave it to me. I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t some hotter water feel nice?” So I turned up the heat, and it did. Then I thought “Am I worthy of this luxury?” As usual, I veered in the direction of thinking that I wasn’t. But there was the hot water. It didn’t care. It just kept on coming. So within a few seconds, I realized I should just be really grateful for it and quit worrying.

(I visited Chile many years ago as part of a “cultural exchange of professionals” sponsored by the Rotary International organization. It was sort of a “send us one of your dentists for six weeks and we’ll send you one of ours for six weeks” kind of thing-dentists for dentists, bankers for bankers, professors for professors, military dictators for military dictators-like that. It was so that bankers from here could see how banking is done there, and how military dictators from there could see how coups are conducted here, and so forth. ((This had actually happened not long before we got there-with resounding success, if you are entertained by the occasional coup, and if you weren’t one of thousands who went missing.)) As the US team of professionals ((this column is being written in the US, but we in the US do not assume that Meridian Readers should take that for granted. The editors are, as I type, beaming nocturnal signals in the direction of Alpha Centauri soliciting the submission of articles. It is because they are up all night thus engaged that I get away with so much here every month)) was being assembled, at the last minute the obligatory professor dropped out and they substituted a guitar picker. The professionals and the picker were to be housed on their Chilean sojourn by the locals.

((We badly needed a new paragraph about now.)) Knowing not one whit about Chile beforehand, I imagined staying in rustic adobe hacienditas with a goat to wake me up in the morning. As it was, my first host found me a room in his century-old manor that surrounded a grand courtyard. To give me a view that would enable me to fully appreciate it, he let me photograph it from his airplane.

He did, however, apologize for the hot water pressure, which is what makes this parenthetical anecdote relevant, although neither I, nor my host, suspected at the time that it would. The first night, he told me that in the morning it might take a few minutes for the hot to arrive at the shower head. So in the morning when I reached past the handle marked “C” and cranked on the other handle, it didn’t worry me particularly that twenty minutes later it still hadn’t warmed up. That’s the moment when it occurred to me that I was in a country that spoke Spanish pretty generally, and that the “C” on the handle I passed over stood for “calor.” According to current Church Statistics, two-thirds of Meridian Readers will know that this word means “hot.”)

So the other day my shower was not “fria,” which propels me into my next ilustratione.

The bishop asks me every two years if I’m worthy to enter the temple. The answer is always the same: “Of course not.” But by the grace of Christ, I am mercifully admitted through those sacred doors into a shower of blessings, if my faith in Him is simply evident in works of obedience. If God is “lending breath” to even “the very vilest of sinners” (both phrases are from the book of Mosiah) because He sees in them the makings of missionaries and prophets, perhaps we ought not to judge ourselves unworthy of a high-calorie shower. (He “sendeth rain on the just and the unjust,” and I’ve been in places where the rain is even kind of warm.)

I have a friend who went to Africa for a couple of weeks to serve people who don’t even have showers, hot or cold. (I can say neither of these words in any African tongue.) When she came back, people asked her if she had a new appreciation for all the things we have here. She answered “No. I have a new appreciation for those who can be so happy without them.” She saw the blessings of those she visited as greater than ours. Like those folks are, we’re worthy of happy blessings that rain down upon us daily, just because we are children of God. Maybe we shouldn’t answer “No” to the worthiness question too quickly.

There’s another hazard in rushing to answer that question, “Are you worthy?” It’s that we might answer “Yes.” A powerful religious tradition has been built upon the idea that if one has hotter water than one’s neighbor, one must be more righteous than one’s neighbor. (In Sunday school yesterday, Tom Andra wondered aloud if, in the promise of “windows of Heaven” opening above the righteous, the Lord chose the image “window” to suggest that it isn’t just a hole for blessings to fall through, but also the very architectural feature through which we might look into Heaven-and maybe that’s the greater blessing. How about that?) In that old doctrinal tradition, prosperity has been seen as a sure sign of the Lord’s favor. Well, even if the only example of righteousness we had was Joseph Smith, we would reject that tradition as false. And there are so many more examples-among them, Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s a very short and dangerous step from feeling that we deserve our blessings to feeling that the Lord is merely our servant, delivering blessings like the UPS man bringing toys from Amazon. We could even begin to imagine ourselves as the source of our blessings.

So if “No, I’m not worthy” is often the wrong answer, then “Yes, I am” is the wrong answer at least as often. I’m so grateful that I have the bishop and the Holy Ghost to help me understand when worthiness really counts!

Many years ago, I wrote a song about my relationship with the Savior. The short refrain went:

“Sometimes I get myself thinking that I deserve you.
But then I wake up believing it doesn’t matter-
I just want to serve you.”

In our “Marriage and Family Relations” Sunday school class (again), we’ve decided that in terrestrial relationships we “keep track” of the other person’s contributions, and even try to measure their level of love, expecting it to equal ours or life isn’t fair. We require that our loved one be worthy of our love by loving us as much as we love them. It’s like the crumbiest (no, I really do think that’s the right way to spell it, if we’re supposed to imagine crumbs upon it, which, hey, what’s wrong with that?) thing that can happen is to have to love somebody who loves us less than we love them.

Well, consider the Savior. There isn’t a soul among all of Father’s children (which is nearly equivalent to the count of Meridian Readers, given that there may be some extra-terrestrial species who have evolved sufficiently to read, but not sufficiently to become accountable) who loves the Savior as much as He loves them-not one soul who could possibly hope to achieve worthiness in that way. Right here the terrestrial notion of how we are emotionally filled and spiritually nourished is turned rather on its head. If the only nourishment to be taken from love is to be had from “incoming,” then the Savior would starve. But I think of Him as the best fed soul in the Universe.

A new calling has come to me, arranging for sacrament meeting prayers and youth speakers (I have your number, both you Meridian Readers in the Alpine First Ward), making appointments for the bishop’s counselors, and keeping track of the keys to the building (if you have one of the fifty-seven I don’t know about, I can be reached at mp@marvinpayne.com or found in the Marriage and Family Relations class during the second hour). The other part of my calling is to write an article for the ward monthly newsletter twice a year, which is where these shower ideas were first unleashed in print. So far, I love this job. It’s fun (for me, anyway) to have conversations with people I otherwise just smile at in church. I don’t know if I deserve it, but serving my ward feels as good as daily hot water on my weary head-appropriately, now that I think of it, water from a heater given to my family by a Christlike friend when our old one busted. A friend who didn’t care if we were worthy of it, or not.

Visit marvinpayne.com!

“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

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