NT 16: Admitting that I Lack

While speaking with a friend today I experienced a profound moment in which I revealed something about myself that I didn’t even realize was true. We are all sick at my house, the weather is terrible, and I “needed” to run an errand; so I called a friend to sit with my kids. But in the process of feeling embarrassed about asking for help with a non-essential errand I realized that my impulse to call was actually driven by a feeling of loneliness. What I really needed was interaction with another adult––I needed to talk, to let a friend know I wasn’t feeling well, and to feel healed by sharing my burden.

I wondered later if that’s how the rich young man felt who came to Jesus asking, “what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17, NT). The rich young man who was doing a good job of being a decent human being, who was keeping the commandments,  felt the need to talk to someone about his life and his eternal trajectory. Did he realize he was missing something in his quest for eternal life? Was he merely seeking to justify himself? Was he looking for a pat on the back? Did he have any sense of what he lacked (but maybe hoped that wasn’t really it)? Jesus, piercing the young man’s soul, answered, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor…” (ibid. verse 21, NT).

It is shocking to feel like you have a handle on life and then be forced to acknowledge that you’re missing something crucial. I needed human interaction and compassion, the rich young man needed to let go of his grasp on worldly wealth. Both needs necessitated recognition of the truth and humility to act. Change is painful but it can also be liberating once we get over that initial hurdle.

To become a richer human being––a fuller, more complete person––is the process of a lifetime. But it requires us to ask hard questions along the way about our progress and performance, and be ready to act on the answers we receive from family, friends, and God. It requires us to share our best and worst selves, to open up, to ask, “What do I need to change? How can I improve? What weakness needs strengthening?” as Elder Larry R. Lawrence suggested in his October 2015 conference talk “What Lack I Yet?”. The answers may shock, upset, grieve us, or we may have sensed that lack all along. When we humbly accept and act, we enter onto a plane of deeper experience that helps us transform, little by little, into the divine individuals God knows we can become. And all those little changes gradually accumulate to make us more like the perfect Savior who has been supporting, enabling, and helping us all along.

 

NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

Day 69: Humility and Giving Credit

3 Nephi 9:15-22; 11:11; 13:25-29

I need to toot my own horn for a minute (with a purpose). Today I feel pretty proud of all I accomplished. I got my kids dressed and fed, I cleaned up messes off and on throughout the day; I unpacked no less than five boxes and continued working on setting up four different rooms; I made cookies with my kids, cared for a sick child, tailored a dress (that I made eight years ago) to wear to my husband’s work party, and repaired two other items of clothing; I made dinner, got the kids to bed on time, and helped my husband mount our television on a wall. Did I mention I also vacuumed the family room and flattened 10 empty boxes? I would give myself a big old pat on the back and spend some time savoring my accomplishments, but I’m trying to heed a warning given in The Book of Mormon.

In 2 Nephi 12:8, the prophet writing at the time quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the last days, that people will “worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” I am definitely guilty of this! I love making things, whether it’s clothing, crafts, home renovations, you name it, I love my creations, sometimes to an absurd degree. After reading the prophecy in 2 Nephi 12, I have really tried to cut back on my creative pride. Not that it’s inherently wrong to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, but when we let pride in our own accomplishments obscure the most important creations and diminish our gratitude for their source, then we run into problems.

I found new meaning in the 2 Nephi prophecy and my own attempts to heed the warning as I read 3 Nephi 9, 11, and beyond. These chapters record true miracles of creation, sacrifice, and love that should take center stage at all times. In 3 Nephi 9:15, the resurrected Jesus Christ speaks to the Nephites and Lamanites from heaven, proclaiming His divinity and role as Creator. He is “the light and life of the world” (v. 18), he has “come unto the world to bring redemption…, to save the world from sin” (v. 21), he has “laid down [His] life, and [has] taken it up again” (v. 22). When I consider what Jesus Christ has done for mankind, for me, for my children and husband, I am humbled. The “works of my own hands” pale in comparison to the miracles of repentance and mercy made possible through the Atonement and Resurrection.

When I let pride in my temporal creations become an obsession, I neglect the true miracles of creation manifest in my children, in the beauties of the earth around me (3 Nephi 13:25-29), in my very existence, and in the promise of eternal life offered as a gift of love by the Savior Jesus Christ. These I will try to cherish more completely instead.