Wednesday, February 22, 2012


My three-year-old is confident, assertive and very, very verbal.  Last week, this combination of traits led an adult member of our household to tell her she was a "bossy pants".  She responded indignantly, "Mommy, I am not a bossy pants! You say I'm not bossy!  Say it right now!!"  The clear contradiction inherent in this statement (and the way it was said) made me laugh (its OK, I haven't damaged her self-esteem any, believe me!).  But as I thought over the incident, I realized that I know many adults who do much the same thing, albeit in a slightly less direct or obvious manner, and I've been guilty of it myself on many occasions.

I was recently told that, in Hebrew, there are no present-tense being verbs to refer to oneself;  such verbiage is applicable only to God.  The Lord declares, "I am", but you cannot--either you were something or you are becoming something.  This is a language rooted in an understanding of Divine perfection and mortal progression.  We are not stagnant, and, more to the point, we are not complete--in nothing is any one of us yet perfect.  Nothing have we truly, thoroughly mastered (from an eternal standpoint) and, much more importantly, in nothing are we beyond hope of redemption and perfection.

The trouble is that far too often there is a wide chasm between our perception of our own behavior, our distance from or proximity to the Lord, and the reality of those things.  Often we so fervently hope to become something, to manifest certain traits or behaviors (or to stop manifesting them), that we convince ourselves that we're already there, or at least farther along than we actually are.

If we have any hope of making meaningful progress, there is much need in our lives for honest, humble self-reflection.  And the only way to do that is make time.  My sister gets out of the house every morning before every one wakes up and goes for an hour-long run;  an hour where no one's diaper needs to be changed, no one needs to be fed, no TV is on, and she can focus wholly and completely on her own thoughts, and where she's at.  My husband talks through his thoughts at length with me.  I write.

I haven't been doing that a lot lately.  Last week I was preparing for my Sunday School class (I got called to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher), and a large part of the lesson focused on the psalm of Nephi.  Nephi expresses so many poignant thoughts in this deeply personal prayer, a meaningful expression of his thoughts and emotions at a very difficult time in his life:  his father has just died, his brothers are trying to kill him, and he is having to step more completely and meaningfully into his role as patriarch, prophet and king to his people.  He exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh;  my soul grieveth because of my iniquities.  I am encompassed about because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me."

That's how I've felt too often when I've stopped to reflect the last year or so.  If I think too hard about what's happened the last couple of years, I still get angry at too many individuals and I don't like being angry, so I have tried not to think about it much instead of trying to work past it.  I get too angry at myself--I should've responded differently to this, I should've been doing more of that--so I just haven't been as prone to reflection as I usually am.

I thought about all this as I read Nephi's thoughts.  His brothers had done little besides cause him trouble since he was a teenager.  This wasn't the first time they'd wanted to kill him, and they'd beat him, tied him up, and exercised various other abuses on him many times in the past.  But with his prophetic perspective, Nephi knew (as good as he, in all reality, certainly was) just how far he was from the Christ-like ideal;  he emphasized over and over again how much he needed the grace of God, how grateful he was for it.  He was wracked with anguish over his brothers, but not because of any great fear for his own safety--he was heartbroken with fear for their temporal and eternal welfare.  For all his troubles, his focus was on gratitude for the love and grace of Christ, for that all-encompassing Atonement that would make him whole, and how he might show that kind of love to the brothers who probably owed him a great debt of gratitude but instead viewed and treated him as a thorn in their side.

"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.  I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh. . .my God will give me, if I ask not amiss. . ."  These are the thoughts that Nephi concludes with. He goes over in his mind the great many ways that the Lord has looked after and protected him and his family, he lists many of the privileged blessings that have been bestowed upon him, and he realizes that the Lord gives liberally when we ask in righteousness.

That's what Nephi understood:  that men, even the very best of men, are weak.  People will let us down, they will make mistakes, they will flake out, they will sometimes be selfish, they will often hold our own mistakes and bad choices against us.  We cannot always fully trust and rely on even those we love the most, but the Lord does not fail us, he is never selfish, and he will accept us with open arms even when we have been the very worst version of ourselves.

These are the thoughts that pondering will usually lead us to, because pondering is different than mere thinking.  Pondering is humble, prayerful consideration;  it is thought enhanced by inspiration and the direction of the Spirit.  It will at once lead us to an understanding of just how flawed we are (O wretched man that I am!) and a peaceful reassurance that, through the Atonement, perfection and exaltation are indeed obtainable goals (He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh).  It is a realization that, despite what our pride would have us believe, a call to repentance is an act of great love. Repentance can be a very difficult process, depending on just how far we have gone astray, just how deeply pride has been rooted in our hearts, but it is a simple one. And, hopefully, if we continually apply the Atonement to our lives, we can say with confidence, as Paul did, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith", and have the same comforting knowledge as did Lehi who proclaimed, as his own life came to a close, "The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love."