Sunday, October 11, 2015


Ether 12:27: 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.

This is a well-known scripture. We often interpret it to mean that we all have weaknesses and they are there to make us humble, and if we trust God, He will turn our weaknesses into strengths.

And from this verse, we tend to extrapolate the idea that we each have weaknesses and strengths, and we should spend our lives rooting out our weaknesses. It's almost as if we believe that we are a giant computer code, and if we can find all the bugs and eliminate them, then we will be perfect. So we're supposed to search and destroy--identify our bits of bad code and rewrite them or cut them out entirely--until we are perfect humans.

After all, how could it be wrong to work on self-improvement?

The trouble is it doesn't work. And it can't. Why?

Several reasons, many of which add up to "What makes you think you're smart enough to do that?": 

1. We are not actually capable of seeing all our weaknesses. Some of them, like pride, actually change the way we see altogether, making it impossible for us to spot them.

2. What we define as weaknesses might not actually be weaknesses. For years I was ashamed that I was so strong-willed. But then I stumbled upon my mom's journal and found one of the few entries she made was my baby blessing, where she recorded that I was blessed with a strong will. Had I rooted that out of my soul, I would have been getting rid of a blessing. And an essential part of who I am.

3. What we see as weaknesses are so intertwined with so many, many things that we can't see the results of our efforts. So many things are, as my mom used to say, "Double-edged swords." If you excise one thing, you might accidentally destroy something you like.

4. Looking for and eliminating our weaknesses is entirely the wrong focus. It leaves us looking inward instead of outward. The purpose of life is NOT to watch ourselves and focus on ourselves. The purpose is to take care of ourselves specifically so we can serve the people around us and love others. It's not supposed to be all about you, and focusing on getting rid of your weaknesses makes it all about you.

5. How do you know what is a weakness without comparing yourself to others?  Comparison is not healthy and, by its nature is embedded in pride, which is a sin.

and, most importantly, 6. We can't actually do that. Many of our "weaknesses" are embedded in our biological makeup. Without Jesus, we can't actually get rid of them.

But it turns out that's not what the scripture says, anyway. You notice, it doesn't say that we have weaknesses to keep us humble or that we are supposed to find and eliminate our weaknesses, as if there was a checklist for perfection. 

Let's read it again: 

Ether 12:27: 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.

First of all, the scripture does not say we have weaknesses. It says we are weak. There is a big difference there. We are weak and incapable, not for any one thing we can find and get rid of but because we are human. We are weak, especially compared to God. And really, that's a comforting idea. Like a baby can't do all things (or even many things) because of lack of strength, we can't either and that is not a condemnation of us. It is a simple statement of reality.

We are weak, therefore we can't do a lot of things and we fail a lot and that makes us humble (if we let it). So if we go unto God, He will show us that we are weak. But His grace is sufficient for us if we humble ourselves.  And then it is never our job to make ourselves strong--you notice that in the verse? It is our job to become humble before him (not before men, which is actually another form of pride) and to have faith in him, and then He takes care of it, making weak things become strong. 

Moroni was comforted by these words, and I am, too. It is not a call to self-improvement. It is a statement from a loving God that yes, you are weak, and that's just fine. It's no condemnation to you if you are weak, only if you are proud. 

When I'm working on a car, and I can't get a bolt off, I can get mad at myself and feel furious and frustrated and miserable because I'm not strong enough. Or I can acknowledge that I'm not strong enough and ask for help. I have learned that I'm too weak physically to get the bolts out of car parts, and if I ask Tim he can usually do it with little trouble. He is stronger than I am.  It's easier for all of us if I don't bother to be stubborn and keep trying myself when I actually am too weak for that and just ask for help. 

I'm the kind of person who usually feels really bad when I fail at things. I like to succeed, and I like to think that if I just try harder, I will always find a way to succeed.  So then it's kind of devastating when I try my hardest and still fail.

But that's where this scripture becomes comforting to me. It's good to be reminded that I'm not just dumb, and I'm not a failure, and I'm not all full of weaknesses that I have yet to find and correct. No--I'm just weak. I just actually can't do it myself. I am like a baby to God, and babies not only can't do a lot of things, the things they can do are done awkwardly and poorly, imperfectly and weakly. And we rejoice at their efforts. God has no misconceptions of how weak I am--only I do. And no doubt he rejoices at my efforts and cheers for my awkward, poorly executed, imperfect results. And if I am willing to see myself as weak, we're both happier for it because then I let God help me, and am more willing to let go and let Him help, and trust what He's doing. 

And if I'm failing because I'm weak, and I turn to Him for help, and He doesn't fix it for me, then I need to trust whatever He is doing even if I don't understand it. And chances are I don't because I'm weak and He's strong; I have limited vision and He can see everything.

This is not to say we don't have to try to do right and keep the commandments and follow God's rules because we're too weak. He expects us to do our very, very best in our weakness. We still have to work, and He makes us do all the parts we can ourselves. It's not an excuse to do nothing.

But it is much nicer to look at life as me being a weak thing that God loves and will help than as a strong thing that is full of faults and failed. We can't try harder to be strong and perfect ourselves. We can just try harder to be humble and have faith that God knows what He's doing, and He is strong.

1 comment:

Catherine Carlson said...

I have enjoyed this scripture for the same reason. Interestingly, many years ago the chapter heading used the word weaknesses rather than weakness. It has been changed for the more recent editions. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who noticed.