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I always feel inadequate as I start these articles. Who am I, after all, to think that what I write should be even considered by others in their different circumstances, education, talent, progress, etc.? So, I thought that rather than be paralyzed by my sense of inadequacy, I should research and write on it. Consequently, this article is for me. You are welcome to keep reading but unless feeling inadequate sometimes paralyzes your decisions, you needn’t go any further, but thanks for considering it to this point.
That said, to generalize what Paul taught, there is nothing with which we struggle but what it is common to man.1 So, perhaps for all of us in this club, comes the realization that most around us, even those over-compensating with a confident air, at times, feel inadequate.
“In various times and ways, we all feel inadequate, uncertain, perhaps unworthy. Yet in our faithful efforts to love God and to minister to our neighbor, we may feel God’s love and needed inspiration….” Gerrit W. Gong “Our Campfire of Faith”; Conf., Oct 2018
At his call, Enoch’s focus was, in spite of being spoken to by the voice of the Lord, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” Moses 6:31… all of the evidences adding up to his inadequacies!
Likewise, in spite of being raised privileged in the royal courts of Egypt, Moses’ first thought was also upon his inadequacies, even to the point of seeming irritation to the Lord:
“Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” Exodus 4:10-14
Is faith in God and this self-focused paralysis, antithetical? Is our continued focus on self and our inadequacy, a manifestation of a lack of trust in God’s wisdom, love, and power? Peter learned that a loss of focus precedes a loss of faith.2 With time Moses would gain confidence before God but that would not stop the personal sense of failure from paralyzing him into rehearsing the evidence of his inadequacy:
“I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:14-15
Over seven hundred years later, the great prophet Elijah finished his three-year spectacle, he thought would convert Israel and the wicked queen Jezebel, only to find instead that she put a price on his head, determined to eliminate him and his irritating miracles. His depth of depression led him south towards Sinai where:
“he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” 1 Kings 19:3-4
Not only is this paralyzing sense of inadequacy evident through examples in scripture, but modern brain studies show that negative, self-focused thinking can change brain chemistry making it potentially addictive. There is a “spice” to melancholy. Wallowing in a paralyzing “wo is me” thinking is a consequence of yielding to the natural man either through bad thinking habits or chronic stress. To paraphrase one author, the secret isn’t thinking less of oneself, it is thinking about oneself less.3
“The problem is that our brains are good at learning from bad experiences but bad at learning from good experiences. According to Dr. Rick Hanson, creator of The “Taking in The Good” Course, a brain training program to use your mind to improve your happiness, says that people who completed a program of training themselves to replace negative thoughts with positive ones “experienced significantly less anxiety and depression, and significantly greater self-control, savoring, compassion, love, contentment, joy, gratitude, self-esteem, self-compassion, satisfaction with life, and overall happiness.”4
The wrestle is universal but to somehow keep from its paralyzing potential, is the focus of this study.
In the new world, this spicy mental disorder of self-deprecation inflicted even the very best, as well. Alma had failed as a missionary to Ammonihah. He felt the discouragement and sorrow even unto anguish.
“Nevertheless, Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance. Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, …and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence…. And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah Alma 8:10-12
It could be argued that his depression was focused only on the people’s consequent future suffering but later he would mourn over his comparative inadequacy, “O that I were an angel… that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” Alma 29:1 He then recognized his sin and corrected his thinking paradigm.
His angel lifted Alma by pointing his attention to what really makes one acceptable to God, “It came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying: Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou received thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you. And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city.” Alma 8:10-16
His perceived failure did not determine his acceptability to God. It was his faithfulness to God’s commandments, not his skill level, not his power of speech or influence, not his number of converts, etc. We are all inadequate; Paul discovered through the wrestle with his own “thorn in the flesh” that “in weakness, I am made strong.”5 Being made strong, however, doesn’t mean skilled. Moroni helped us understand that it means, “strong, even unto exaltation.”6
We may always feel inadequate. In fact, Paul also suggests that this sense of inadequacy is vital to God’s calling us to serve:
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” 1 Cor 1:27
Elder Holland, then President Holland eloquently echoed this vital realization of reality:
“It is ordained that we come to know our worth as a child of god without something as dramatic as a leap from the pinnacle of the temple. All but a prophetic few must go about God’s work in very quiet, very unspectacular ways. And as you labor to know him, and to know that he knows you; as you invest your time—and inconvenience—in quiet, unassuming service, you will indeed find that “his angels [have] charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up.” (Matt. 4:6.) It may not come quickly. It probably won’t come quickly, but there is purpose in the time it takes. Cherish your spiritual burdens because God will converse with you through them and will use you to do his work if you carry them well.”7
King Benjamin instructed us to be both humble and meek.8 These reflect the two great commandments targeted by Christ to love God and love our neighbor.9
In my own moments of incapacitating self-doubt and self-appointed failure, I love remembering the life of Peter whose shadow eventually served as an access to God’s healing power,10 so great was his divine instrumentality. Not only did he begin as a lowly, uneducated fisherman but even after more than a year of service as an apostle, he is compared to satan, having become an offence to the Savior.
“Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matt 16:22-23
Undoubtedly humbled, a few moments later, Peter pledges to never be offended by Christ and therefore, never deny him. What must it have done to his confidence to receive the prophecy from Christ that he would not only deny Him, but would do so three times, and then in spite of his compensating pledge does just that!
“Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” Matt 26:33-35
“And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out and wept bitterly.” Matt 26:69-75
Added to that, in between the prophecy and the denial, Peter is rebuked when trying his best…to protect his master… with his sword, succeeding only to cut an ear off. Not only were his sword skills clumsy but he acted as if he were the savior, again earning him a rebuke.
“And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” Matt 2 6:51-54
The Savior understood the importance of the transformation that Peter needed to undergo and so gave him opportunity to bear witness-a corresponding three times, of his love:
“Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. John 21: 15-17
It would take the sacred forty-day instruction and ordinance period11 between the resurrection and the ascension, for Peter to step, now humbly and instrumentally, into his prophetic role:
“And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God Acts 3:2-8
“None is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart” Moroni 7:44
To be pleasing in God’s sight – the highest of mortal aspirations, one must be meek and lowly of heart, not perfect or flawless. Meek is to be submissive but different than just humble. It originates in a sense of love towards others. One must not assume any verticality in relation to others or deserving before God. Lowliness of heart leads to humility or one’s sense of verticality towards God that results in the understanding of the lowly mortal state that makes one vulnerable to all things of the natural man and hence completely reliant upon God in every sense.12 On this metaphorical vertical axis, we are always below God. We can never put Him below us, or in our debt. We never deserve. He has told us that He is bound by our obedience to His laws but that is by His grace not our deserving! He would help the apostles understand that this vital “lowliness of heart” growing to the true humility of living comfortably with the “unprofitable servant” identity, is vital to increasing their faith.13
“For the kingdom of God is …righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. Romans 14:17-19
13 Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. Romans 14:13
Part of being acceptable to God is being non-offensive or discouraging to others, which is a part of meekness. Hence, spiritual non-disclosure14 is a vital part of spiritual growth that is acceptable to the Lord as we accept that the only authorized verticality is a humble relationship with Him. All other relationships should be horizontal. Any vertical feelings that come from comparative thoughts are unauthorized and not pleasing to the Lord.15
“I, the Lord, am not pleased with my servant Sidney Rigdon; he exalted himself in his heart, and received not counsel, but grieved the Spirit; Wherefore his writing is not acceptable unto the Lord, and he shall make another; and if the Lord receive it not, behold he standeth no longer in the office to which I have appointed him.” DC 63:55-56
The greatest, most accomplished, most skillful and seemingly perfect among us, famous or anonymous, gains acceptability to God the same way as those of us who struggle with “ordinariness,” being just average,” or those handicapped in one thing or another; through loving God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves…through being humble and meek! That is why our Father mercifully provides even the strongest among us, with weaknesses, so that His grace will be sufficient for us.16 So, as it turns out, recognizing one’s own inadequacy is inseparably connected to being acceptable to God.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight: (walking by sight is being comfortable in the natural man) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” 2 Cor 5:7-9
We become acceptable then only through Christ who makes us perfect…but it is through a patient partnership process, not an event.17
“Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances. And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.” DC 52:15-17
Acceptance of our own inadequacy, leading to humility and then meekness (a focus on God and others), gives God access to our hearts, thereby allowing Him to make more of us than we could ever do alone.18
1 See 1 Corinthians 10:13
2 Matt 14:28-31 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid ; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith , wherefore didst thou doubt ?
3 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
4 This Is What Negative Thinking Does to Your Brain and Body; https://www.powerofpositivity.com/negative-thinking-affects-your-brain/
Like any addiction, the disease effects are real, but they originate with and are perpetuated by the “natural man.” To assume otherwise removes any possibility of choosing to change it through education, repentance, training, therapy, or the Atonement of Christ. If we can’t accept that we choose our reality, even if we are a victim of another’s choice initially, then we are powerless to change it.
“I’m always startled by the misunderstandings of the nature of depression that seem to rise to the forefront in tragedies such as these. So it bears repeating: depression is a brain disorder that is most likely caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. It is not something you snap out of any more than you snap out of cancer. It’s not a refusal to be grateful for all of the blessings of life. It’s not a character flaw. And it’s not something that wealth, fame, international acclaim or even respect and love can protect you against.” David Sack M.D.; Psychology Today, Aug 14, 2014
5 I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness . Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Cor 12:6-10
6 Ether 12:37 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.
7 Feb 1984 Ensign, The Inconvenient Messiah https://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/02/the-inconvenient-messiah?lang=eng&cid=email- shared
8 Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
9 Luke 10:25-27 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. Also: John 14:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
10 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one. Acts 5:15-16
11 See Acts 1:4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
12 Mosiah 4:5 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 — Ether 3:2 we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually
13 Luke 17:5-10 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Mosiah 2:21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
14 Boyd K. Packer, Conf 4/71; Occasionally during the past year I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, “Have you seen Him?” That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it. There are some things just too sacred to discuss.
15 DC 58:41 And also he hath need to repent, for I, the Lord, am not well pleased with him, for he seeketh to excel , and he is not sufficiently meek before me.
Excel – To go beyond; to exceed; to surpass in good qualities or laudable deeds; to outdo . Webster’s Dictionary 1828 – Online Edition
16 Ether 12:26-27; 37 my grace is sufficient for the meek…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…. even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.
17 Moroni 10:32-33 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
18 Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign 3/1987; “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace.