Recently a beloved missionary called to ask us a troubled question. “Why am I so weak and imperfect? All the people love Sister So-and-so. I’ll never be like her. I just want to give up.”
The instinctive response is to argue, “But you are so good at such and such. You have so many talents!” We may even stoop to faulting the praised one as if making the competition poorer might make her feel better.
But there is no right way to do a wrong thing. There is no right answer to a wrong question. When the question is, “How can I respect myself when there are others so much better than I?” the answer is not, “You are better than you think you are.”
We can learn a better model from God’s example of dealing with His children. Enoch, after being told to prophesy unto the people, objected in a way very similar to the missionary who called us:
. . . he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? (Moses 6:31).
If we were to contemporize Enoch’s language, it might sound like, “O Father, how can you use me? I am a nobody. The people hate me and I have no ability at speaking. How can you possibly use me?”
How did the Lord respond to such self-abnegation? Did He offer praise, encouragement, or contradiction? His answer is a pattern for responding to discouragement.
And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good (Moses 6:32).
In the mouth of a supportive, mortal parent, the message might be, “Go ahead and do what you are able. I will protect and guide you. You do what you are able and I will make up the difference.”
In dealing with Enoch’s self-doubt, God did not offer platitudes or palliatives. He told him to have the faith to move forward. He even gave Enoch the words to say. “Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you” (Moses 6:33). Surely God was teaching Enoch even as he was using him to deliver a message to the people.
Two steps in the process of reassuring the hesitant are even clearer in the experience of Moses. Moses offers an ideal test case since his identity had been shattered and remade in such dramatically different ways. He was revered as the son of Pharaoh with all the princely privileges and honors. Then he was seen as a slave-Israelite and criminal on Egypt’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.
So he fled to Midian to start over. In a mountaintop interview with God, Moses got the message of his true identity. God introduced himself to Moses with grandiloquence. “Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” (Moses 1:3). God did not use such boldness to impress Moses; he used it to set the stage for Moses’ most important discovery: “And, behold, thou art my son” (Moses 1:4). Moses learned that he had a role more important even than a prince in Egypt. He was a son of God.
God also showed Moses the workmanship of His hands. He beheld the entire history of the world and every inhabitant. God had a specific instructional objective in showing His creation to Moses: “And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son” (Moses 1:6). Think of the power of those two messages: “You are a son of God. He has a work for you to do.”
The two messages we offer to those who are discouraged and overwhelmed relate to relationship and mission: 1. We love you. We do not love you because you are better at this or that than so and so. We love you because you are you, because you are a unique creation of your Heavenly Fathder. 2. You are able to do an important part of God’s work. With heavenly help, you can do a work that He has designated just for you.
Ammon, with characteristic exuberance, expressed the attitude of a true servant:
Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever (Alma 26:12).
Lasting comfort does not come from comparison but from “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:20). We may be tempted to ask ourselves, “Could I do what Moses did?” The more interesting question is, “Could Moses do what Moses did?” The answer is a resounding “No!” Only God can do miracles. But we can be His messengers or helpers. Just as God used meek Moses to do a vital work, He can use us.
Our job is not to impress people, move mountains, convert people, or change the course of history. Our job is simply to do His will. As Jesus, the perfect servant of God, observed:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).
When Satan assails us with self-doubt, the right answer is, “I am a child of God. I trust him to use me to bless His children.” Life becomes more meaningful as “one joyfully, voluntarily, and quietly submits one’s whole life to God’s will” (Alice T. Clark, Humility, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Volume 2).