Feeling Unworthy Continually
When I was a young teenager, I remember talking with my dad about those things that every young man must face as he discovers himself and the vast world around him. I remember feeling unworthy for indulging in desires and behaviors that I had been taught were unbecoming of godliness. My dad was loving, understanding, and told me I wasn’t alone. I feel as if Christ would have done the same thing had he been there in person.
When I was preparing to serve a mission for the LDS church, I frequently met with my Bishop, or pastor, to guide me on a path of worthiness and knowledge. When I told him of transgressions I had committed that made me feel unworthy, I was not told I was unworthy. He did not make me feel unworthy. I felt intense compassion and love from a friend. I felt in those moments that Christ would have done the exact same things my Bishop did had He been there in person.
While on my mission, I met with my mission president about transgressions that made me feel unworthy. He wrapped his arms around me, told me he loved me, and never told me I was unworthy of God’s love or approval. I continued to serve and knew that had Christ been there in person, He would have done and said the exact things my mission president did.
Years after my mission, I met with my bishop once again opening up about my sins that made me feel so incredibly unworthy and unlovable. Instead of condemning me, he taught me how to begin condemning the sin and loving myself. As Spencer W. Kimball put it, “Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual.” The process of introspection I was in caused me to recognize deep and unmet needs over the years that needed healing. He made me feel worthy of God’s love and trust even in the midst of my soul’s turmoil.
I know you’re probably thinking this guy can’t get his stuff together. I am a flawed human who continually requires multiple tries to get this life right. I stumble a lot, as do we all as we are learning to treasure heavenly things.
So why do I keep coming back to a religion that obviously has more rules than most it seems? Especially when these rules have made me feel so unworthy at times? You have to pay 10% of your income to the church. You can’t drink tea, coffee, or alcohol. You can’t have premarital sex. I’ve thought about getting one of those T-shirts that say, “I can’t, I’m Mormon,” just for fun. And the rules go on.
Being perfect is really hard
Any law broken brings the lawbreaker under its condemnation. Being unjustified by a law or commandment is incredibly uncomfortable. I have found it to be a place of misery and despair.
While in that place, I feel I’d like to do anything to be justified, or supported, by that law. I am tempted to redefine the law to accommodate my situation at times. And at others, I am tempted to fully write the law out of existence. Without a broken law to be condemned by, I can guarantee I won’t feel guilty, ashamed, or unworthy.
However, as convenient as this may be to avoid the negative feelings, I have found that where law moves, so do its effects.
This obviously is not the solution to finding happiness in this life or in the life to come. I have done this before, and when I have, it is because I see myself in debt to the law, which demands perfection. It’s quite illogical to assume I can ever be fully justified again after breaking a law demanding perfection because one wrong move disqualifies me.
A big thing called grace
Through my experiences with my dad, bishops, mission president, and so many more not mentioned, I was introduced to the being of Jesus Christ—The One who could fulfill the demands of perfection that I could not. He became known to me as a personal savior, and He did not demand perfection. He merely asked me to believe His promises. He asked if I would let my heart be His. His promises were filled with hope. And to me, I define hope as the assurance I can change over time for the better. He promised to heal me from those deep and unmet needs. “I am all you need,” He quietly whispered into my heart. He promised He would make something out of me if I gave him my will. No longer was I looking for a way out.
As I began to really exercise my faith in Christ, I became acquainted with His grace, the heavenly gift and power He is so willing to bestow upon all His children. I didn’t have to wait to feel it though. As Brad Wilcox said, “Grace is not the finishing touch, but the Finisher’s touch.” Christ is the author and finisher of faith.
I feel His grace in the initial pang of guilt. That means I am close to Him and see my imperfections as Christ is the light of the world. After all, that which is dark is not discernible (Alma 32:35). I feel His grace in my increasing desire to become like Him. I feel His grace as I fall again and again. Christ grew from grace to grace. I grow from grace to sin, to sin, to grace, to sin some more. I feel His grace knowing my sequence of growth can become more like His over time.
High expectations call for high levels of grace
Joseph Smith declared,
“that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”
Whoa! Is he for real? Is that the case?
To further elaborate, C.S. Lewis explains,
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
This little line catches my mind and heart and causes me to reevaluate how little I know, “from the one you thought of.” C.S. Lewis is describing what a limited view we have as mortals of the eternal purposes of life on earth.
Why does God require so much of me? Because He loves me. And He is not content to keep me as I am—a fallen, not-yet-complete in character mortal being. See, God intends for me to become like Him—a complete, perfected being. What I think my soul needs in that transformation cannot possibly get me there, for I am not a God and my ways are not His ways…yet.
Tithing, chastity, eating healthy, serving others all become ways my spirit is prepared to receive his, the spirit through whom I will be guided home. But can’t I do this outside the LDS church? Let me put it this way. God has 7 billion children on this earth currently. Those numbered among the LDS membership are 16.6 Million. If I thought God only spoke to, intervened in the lives of, or guided Mormons, I might have to stop believing in God. But He is in control of each person’s path and will speak to His children in ways that each will understand. He wants all of us back in His presence. He will spare nothing in guiding us there.
A big thing called desire
I have spoken nothing of all the cultural, historical, or doctrinal paradigms of my faith I have and have not reconciled. That might be a discussion for another day and quite honestly, is not why I truly decide to stay. However, I want to believe. Let me say that again. I want to believe.
A Book of Mormon prophet, Alma taught,
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:27)
We often assume from this verse that if we can’t start off with a strong belief, then we must settle for a mere desire to believe. Let us not underestimate how absolutely essential desire is in every journey of faith—for people will never believe what we do not want to believe.
People will never believe what we do not want to believe.
My faith has made room for discrepancies, fallibility, questions, doubts, paradigms, and imperfections because I have the assurance through the grace of Christ that all shall be revealed and resolved one day. Assurance is different than answers. I can have answers all day and not have an assurance, direction, or peace.
To those exiting
For those who have left, are on their way out, or are thinking of leaving, I see you. I read your messages. I hear your heart spill in conversations I have with you. I love you and I understand there are a million reasons to leave. In no way am I saying that my experience and what I have shared is your reason. There is the same number of reasons to stay and I merely want to be a gracious voice, perhaps one you didn’t hear enough within your time in the church. I won’t apologize on behalf of fellow members and the things they say or do that are wrong, hurtful, or misguided. I understand, most often, they have done so from a place of deep and unmet needs having yet to fully embrace Christ moment to moment, or from grace to grace.
You are worthy of His love and you always were. You are enough for Him and you always were. He will continually meet you wherever you find yourself if He is someone you want to seek. And I’m convinced even if you don’t, He is quietly in the details. He knows you and has personally and deeply become acquainted with your unmet needs.
Why I stay
There is no earning heaven, only learning heaven through an upward educative experience little by little. I stay because I need healing. I stay because Jesus Christ does that for me and I have found Him here.