Thursday, June 06, 2013

O Wretched Man That I Am

I enjoy hearing the children's song I Feel My Savior's Love. We regularly sing it as a family. But sometimes I feel dishonest as I sing, "He knows I will follow him, Give all my life to him." I think to myself, "Does he really?" because I am often aware of how poor a disciple I actually am.

Sometimes when I pray, I feel bereft of faith that my prayers will be attended to because I am so poignantly aware of my failings, my selfishness, my disloyalty toward God. When I open my mind to praise God, I often feel that the attempt is half-hearted because I am so aware of how often I fail him.

I don't always feel like a contemptible lout. Sometimes "I think myself," as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity "a nice chap." Lewis adds that "those are, no doubt, my worst moments." Why is it that I am so blind to the sin of pride while I am engaged it it?

When I feel myself inadequate, when I am reminded of my sins and weaknesses, when I do something despicable, I am occasionally heartened by the Psalm of Nephi recorded in 2 Nephi 4:15-35. This man that is revered as a great prophet leader; this man that is so unwavering in his obedience to God cries out in verses 17-19:
"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. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins."
Yes. Yes! That is how I feel. If a prophet of God feels wretched and despairs because of his sins, how much greater reason do I have to do so? Still, Nephi provides a wonderful model for us to follow. In verses 19-20, after expressing anguish for his failings, he calmly states, "[N]evertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support."

Nephi then counts his many blessings, describing to himself and his readers some examples of how God has blessed him. He then asks in verses 26-27 "why," having been so greatly blessed, "should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?"

While these musings are inspiring, surely they lead full circle to Nephi's original despair due to the natural fallen human and carnal state in which finds himself, do they not? Yet Nephi continues, admoninshing himself in verse 28, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart...."

Nephi then moves into a powerful prayer for his own soul in verses 31-35. Using mighty words and vivid imagery he calls upon the Lord to help him choose right. Nephi wants to do right; he doesn't ask to be blessed despite his sins. He tenderly asks in verse 33, "O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!" He reminds himself in verse 35 "that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss."

Finally, after having reviewed how God has powerfully blessed him, after he has engaged in mighty prayer and reminded himself that God liberally answers prayers, Nephi concludes, "[T]herefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen." Three times (v. 30, 35) Nephi calls God his rock, his only true source of stability.

As powerful as is the Psalm of Nephi and no matter how often I read it and recite it (I have committed it to memory), I eventually find myself back where I started: "O wretched man that I am!" Still, I find some hope in the words of the song I Feel My Savior's Love. The chorus goes, "He knows I will follow him, Give all my life to him." It does not say, "He knows I do follow him...."

The entire scope of Christianity looks forward to a heaven for those that seek to follow Christ. Furthermore, Latter-Day Saint belief offers an expansive view of a glorious afterlife for the vast majority of God's children, including a heaven where eternal progress is possible. The Savior knows that I do not always follow him or give all my life to him at present. But perhaps he knows that I will ultimately follow him and give all my eternal life to him.

It is my belief in this hope that keeps me going, despite my wretchedness.


Michaela Stephens said...

Nephi also asks the Lord to make him quake at the appearance of sin. This is essentially a request for a change of heart.

I know what you're talking about in this post. I've felt like that too at times. I have to remind myself that a change of heart will allow me to love good and rejoice in doing it, rather than thinking it an irritating burden. I want that. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I want it.

Scott Hinrichs said...

What a beautiful sentiment: to want to do good and rejoice in it. This is what Nephi wants, despite how far short he finds himself from this goal.

It is important to be cognizant of our sins so that we may repent. But this needs to occur in proper measure. Consider President Uchtdorf's recent general priesthood address where he said:

"It can be discouraging at times to know what it means to be a son of God and yet come up short. The adversary likes to take advantage of these feelings. Satan would rather that you define yourself by your sins instead of your divine potential. Brethren, don’t listen to him.

"We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not. What father would punish a toddler for stumbling? We encourage, we applaud, and we praise because with every small step, the child is becoming more like his parents.

"Now, brethren, compared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him, and, dear brethren, that should be our eternal goal too. God understands that we get there not in an instant but by taking one step at a time."