A former student wrote me recently and asked why I had done some things I had done. Some were helpful. Some were hurtful. The student was confused. Were the helpful deeds accidental or manipulative? Were the hurtful acts the truest measure of my flawed character?
Those are painful questions for anyone who has faced the stark reality of personal mistakes and persistent weakness. I try to do better but my badness doesn’t disappear. It sticks to me.
I wonder if Paul was dealing with similar feelings when he wrote:
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19).
Why do I do what I do when I know what I know?
I take comfort in Hugh Nibley’s observation that righteousness is not a place where we relax or retire after working hard to defeat our weaknesses. No. Righteousness is repenting. Righteousness is the willingness to keep fighting sin and stupidity in our souls. It is the yearning to be filled with Him. In mortality, the battle for righteousness is never finished. I think this is what King Benjamin was saying:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever . . .
We must always fight against sin. Even after a lifetime of fighting against sin, I will not be made right–
unless [I] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint
How do I become a saint, a true follower?
Through the atonement of Christ the Lord (Mosiah 3:19).
None of this is intended to excuse sin. It is merely an acknowledgment that we cannot make ourselves righteous. We fight against sin every day of mortality, but ultimately it is He who makes us right. The main thing we can do is to be humble.
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. (Ether 12:27, emphasis added)
We make ourselves humble and He makes us clean. He can make us what He is: Righteous. But we must hate sin and love Him. That is the only way for us to cast off our sins.
What are your thoughts? Are you ever burdened by your shortcomings? How do you conquer them?
For me it is like J. Golden Kimball is reported to have said, “I may not have walked the straight and narrow, but I crossed it often as I could.”