Lord, it is I

I am a sinner. I have insufficient faith. I am prone to fear men more than I fear God. I resent commandments. I desire some sins. I sometimes wallow in despair, self-pity, self-centeredness. I am mostly less than I could be, less than I believe I should be.

Growing up, to some degree, has meant coming to terms with my fallenness. I will never, while I live, live up to my ideals. I will never be perfect. I don’t really know what to do with that in a religious sense. Many people would tell me that it is unhealthy to expect perfection, to even have it as an idealized goal. Others will tell me that perfection is to be whole, to embrace myself, even in my sins. But if God won’t save me in my sins, how does that help?

Actually, if God won’t save me in my sins, what is the point? I’ll never not sin. Sometimes I experience the remission of sin, where I genuinely don’t want to sin anymore, but then I get tired, my family won’t listen, a co-worker irritates me, and Amen to that remission. I’m right back off the wagon, wishing ill and hardening my heart.

Which is, of course, the worst bit. Even if I manage to somehow, via willpower and a higher power, quit my bad habits and to not start new bad habits, I am as prone as anyone to pride and judgment. I might hold my tongue, but in my heart I am likely to think ill of the broken and the straying. Charity for those who offend me, who are not my enemy but whom I would not have as a friend, requires effort and I am frequently lazy.

So, I’m familiar with my sins. Being kind of lame, I take a bit of pride in this as well. I may not be perfect, but at least I know I’m not perfect (unlike some people I could name, but won’t). I’m probably better for admitting my sins (vaguely, with no specifics) than all those sanctimonious people out there. Moral superiority through sinning; who knew?

It is nice to hear, as President Uchtdorf told us in Priesthood session, “Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, “Lord, is it I?”,” but I know it is I. I am the cause of most of my own problems, without a doubt. The question is, what do I do about it?

I could change I suppose, but I don’t know how. I’m relatively old now and I am almost certainly who I am going to be. That I disappoint myself doesn’t really reveal anything; who doesn’t? As if to demonstrate what a cliché I am, the scripture is replete with prophetic self-recrimination. Isaiah says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Nephi says, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.” Alma says, “I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” If even the prophets aren’t satisfied with their effort, how am I ever to be with mine?

Sis. Cheryl Esplin, in her recent conference talk, quoted Elder Melvin J. Ballard to this effect. “Who is there among us that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath?” I’m intrigued by this phrasing, “wound [one’s] spirit.” It is evocative of the way our sinfulness, always in pursuit of some perceived good, is self-harm. And yet we love it so; the familiar, no matter how painful, is often preferred to an unknown future, no matter how bright.

So, here we find ourselves. Just another sinner amidst a host of sinners, both noble and base. What are we to do? I suppose we could finish Elder Ballard’s quote:

“We do things for which we are sorry and desire to be forgiven. … The method to obtain forgiveness is … to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls. …
I am a witness that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food.”

Earlier in her talk, Sis. Esplin notes that the sacrament, in addition to facilitating our repentance, grants us access to “Christ’s enabling power.” Quoting a sister in the church, Sis. Esplin said, “She was forgetting all the times the Savior helped her be who she needed to be and serve beyond her own capacity.”

In the current era, we often feel starved for miracle. No more do people leap up and speak in tongues, nor do we frequently witness folk being raised from the dead. Visions are rare and inspiration is fleeting. But really is there any more profoundly miraculous moment than the one where we accidentally become the answer to someone’s prayer? When we, an inadvertent instrument in the Lord’s hands, do something wonderful and healing for someone else? We may not think it but every act of compassion, of empathy, is a miracle.

We all build walls, great fortresses of frowns on public streets and looking past people we don’t want to see. We assume ill will and avarice in others, inspired by those same feelings in ourselves. It is so easy to retreat, to close the gates, to cut off the outside. We want protection from other people, from the world, from ourselves. But each act of empathy, of genuine love, that we encounter is like a great battering ram, beating down the walls we’ve built for protection. And I think that is God’s will, because if we are to be his people, we must be united, not separate. We can have no walls.

So we experience the miracle of love. Love for me, broken idiot that I am. And, because we were loved, we often love in return. It doesn’t take much to inspire loyalty, just love unfeigned. And that, the Lord provides. Why? I don’t really know. But he does.

So, if the Lord says, as Elder Uchtdorf says, “Yes, my son [or daughter], there are things you must improve,” it isn’t him stating the obvious. Rather it is the first step in an invitation, wherein he promises that the things you must improve are “things [he] can help you to overcome.” The great power of the gospel comes from its effect on people. It simultaneously discomfits the comfortable and comforts the discomfitted. We are made deeply uncomfortable, sinners in the presence of the truly benign, but we are invited to join the effort nonetheless. God’s faith in us, occasionally justified, is motivating. I’m not sure if that’s a miracle or not, but it seems capable of inspiring them.

Lord, it is I.

Comments

  1. Really great post, thanks.

  2. “We can have no walls” — this is profound. John, thanks for this post. I wonder what for you is the great first motivating step forwrd to break out of that immobile, apathetic, complacent state. Any ideas?

  3. Steve,
    I think we sit in the complacent state because we’re comfortable there. We are temporally safe. But the Gospel asks us to do unsafe things (make new friends, help someone you barely know, do some freaking good in the world). Making that shift is difficult.

    I like how Sis. Esplin emphasizes that the sacrament is about the renewal of the spirit, which I think we can take to mean that we are given the opportunity to try something or become someone new. One of the reasons we have these arbitrary ordinances is to remind us of the silliness of belief. That should also make us uncomfortable (why is it important that I drink a small cup of water and eat a pinch of bread each week?), which should make us think about why we do it anyway. If we can do this, maybe we can do some other uncomfortable, but Christian thing.

  4. Profound — I really needed this today! Much to ponder here, and upon my first reading of this I feel like I can endorse this post entirely. This reflects my own feelings very well. Thank you!

  5. Excellent, John. I’ve been looking for someone to endorse my sinning for a while now. Glad to have you on board.

  6. MagpieLovely says:

    This line resonates: “I’m relatively old now and I am almost certainly who I am going to be.”

    The older I get the more difficult it is to believe in change–one that is true, transformative, and new. Change is a miracle. Thanks for reminding me that I have to keep reaching for it.

  7. Thanks for this post. Good read for me today.

  8. I have been studying tring to understand how to allow Christ to change us. My state and list of sins looks much like yours. I have been praying for Christ to change my heart, make weak things strong, but I don’t see a difference and can’t figure out how to access the enabling power. What key am I missing?

  9. Anon,
    I don’t know. Sometimes it just sucks and continues to suck for a while. In those situations, since we are trying, even half-heartedly, I figure God honors that. We can’t force his hand and that’s very frustrating. Sometimes you just have to make it through the suck. But, if that’s where you are, know that I, a complete stranger, hope you find happiness and believe you can. And that you’ll find it in your own way, which possibly won’t follow any church-prescribed path, and that’s great if it works for you. That you even ask the question and think I or the internet has an answer demonstrates deep faith. The internet and I probably will fail you (sorry), but I admire your nerve. Keep at it until you can’t, I guess, unless that’s cruel, in which case stop immediately; you might just need a break.

  10. Beautiful, John. Thank you.

    “Sis. Esplin notes that the sacrament, in addition to facilitating our repentance, grants us access to ‘Christ’s enabling power.'”

    That was my favorite part of her talk, and I hope we all can understand and internalize that principle more deeply. I believe that enabling power isn’t outside of repentance – that it actually is part of repentance (proactive, forward-focused change as compared to the traditionally reactive, backward-looking change, both of which are important and necessary for full repentance) – and I was happy to see it mentioned in General Conference.

  11. Recently I’ve become aware of one relationship I thought I was fully invested in, but which, it turns out I was just selfishly interested in. I recognized that while I loved this person, I had a heavy burden of expectations for him. I therefore decided to stop that and to just love himwithout expectations or walls/barriers. It was fine and dandy for about a week, before the reality of what that would mean sunk in. Just today I considered giving up and settling for loving this person just partially. And then I read your line about our potential to do something wonderful and healing for someone else. To, even inadvertently, make a space in Zion for someone else. It reminded me that any effort to love, to try and love as we are loved, is always worth the cost. Thanks for that reminder. It will keep me going. I owe you.

  12. Needful Things says:

    John, your post and the general tenor of life lately has made me review some of my failings. It created a cascade of thought that left me with the feeling that my life has been largely a pile of steaming funk. I’m sure I’ll get over it, but it’s rather depressing. And beyond “sin,” I wonder where “inadequate” or failure to see dealings with others (most importantly children, perhaps) as selfish, falls on the spectrum of “you can never get it back” kind of thing. All in all, how do I deserve anything other than Edwardian hell? Sometimes I just don’t know.

  13. Needful,
    Yikes! Sorry about that. I was (and probably still am) a bit depressed when writing it, but it felt like what I needed to say at the time. I don’t think you or anybody deserves Edwardian hell (or the hell of any era); we’re all just people. Some of us are Stalin or something, I guess, but I believe that those cases are rare enough that I don’t need to generalize from them. Most of us try, more or less, to be good people and sometimes succeed. Now, should that make us guilt-free and arrogant? Nope, but we shouldn’t loathe ourselves either (although I often do; see depression mentioned earlier). I guess, if you care to, you can remember that the Gospel isn’t the promise that we’ll get what we deserve; it is the promise that we’ll get much more. Do I know what that means? Not really, but I imagine it includes forgiveness and understanding, which we don’t actually deserve but often get from those who love us. Maybe that’s enough.

    Anyhoo, don’t be too hard on yourself. Also, that Stephen King book seriously spooked me when I first read it years ago. Beware of deals that are too good to be true, I guess. Except the Gospel, probably.

  14. I once heard the following:

    “I asked God to give me what I deserve, so he slapped me and sent me to Hell.”

    I’m glad the Gospel doesn’t teach that we get what we deserve, even if that is the message (one way or the other) that comes through too many of the things we hear from a lot of people – both inside and outside of church.

  15. Late to the game, John, but this is really great. Thank you!

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