When Overcoming Temptation, it Helps to Avoid Beating Ourselves Up in the Process.
Admitting our faults and taking responsibility to fix them is an important part of the repentance process. At the same time, it’s also true that it does no good to demean ourselves or exaggerate our faults as we attempt to overcome them. It’s not hard to imagine the result if someone followed us around day and night constantly yelling at us about how poorly we are doing, how we aren’t trying hard enough, what a loser we are, and so forth. Yet, that’s exactly what some missionaries do to themselves; likely with liberal help from Satan. Even though they may understand the doctrine correctly, those who do this fail to see who they really are.
Moses discovered who he really is, and who all of us are, when God appeared to him as described in the first chapter of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. There Moses tells us that God introduced Himself as the Lord God Almighty, and reminded Moses that “there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:6). Moses was also shown the amazing breadth and scope of God’s work (Moses 1:8). Further, Moses was affected physically by being in the presence of God. He fell to the earth when the interview ended, and it was several hours before his strength returned. (Moses 1:9-10).
On the surface, it might appear like this dramatic introduction was designed to impress Moses with how great God is. It’s more likely, however, that all of this was intended to set the stage for the earth-shaking revelation: “thou art my son” (Moses 1:4). God is indeed great and almighty, but we are the offspring of this omnipotent and omniscient God. That makes Moses, and all of us, “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). As presumptuous, and even as blasphemous, as this may sound to some people, the scriptures reveal this to be fact. And nothing could be more significant than this truth in defining our eternal worth and potential.
Having an understanding of who Moses was from an eternal perspective greatly strengthened his confidence. A little later, now armed with this knowledge, Moses was able to confront Satan successfully with the perfect come back to temptation. When Satan wanted Moses to worship him, Moses responded by saying, “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13). In theory, this understanding should also help any missionary when Satan comes tempting. It should also be good reason to never give up on ourselves. It is never correct for a child of God to think of himself or herself as a loser who has totally blown all chances for respect and honor. This truth has been taught by many prophets over time, including President Spencer W. Kimball:
“You are unique. One of a kind, made of the eternal intelligence which gives you claim upon eternal life. Let there be no question in your mind about your value as an individual. The whole intent of the gospel plan is to provide an opportunity for each of you to reach your fullest potential, which is eternal progression and the possibility of godhood" (“Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters”, Ensign, November 1978, p. 105).
We are all a work in progress and there is much about each of us that needs to change. But we will typically have more success making the needed changes when we:
1. See ourselves as a son or daughter of God, not as an evil person. When trying to overcome serious faults, it’s a lot more motivating to see our self as a good person (in reality a child of God) who has been involved in an evil activity; rather than as an evil person because of our involvement in the evil activity. If we had actually become an evil person, we wouldn’t feel guilty about what we are doing. We would celebrate and accept the behavior, not hate it. When we are involved in evil of any kind, we obviously have work to do; but as long as we hate the sin and desire to repent, there is hope.
2. Keep faith that with continued effort we can yet be successful. The fact that we have not solved a problem doesn’t mean that we never will; it just means that we haven’t yet. Rather than focus on all of our failed attempts, it helps to focus on our successes--the times when we did overcome the problem, at least temporarily. It’s always more motivating to focus on the times we are successful at something difficult than it is to focus on the times we fail. In this regard, sometimes we Latter-Day Saints are really “Ladder-Day Saints”. We think of progress toward a goal as similar to climbing a ladder. When we slip and fall, it’s as if we have fallen in a heap at the bottom of the ladder. We must then exert tremendous energy to just get back to where we were, let alone climb on from there. It’s better to think of working toward a goal as being like balancing oneself while walking along a flat topped fence. It’s not a particularly easy task, but generally possible. We may get distracted, get fatigued, or the wind may come up, causing us to lose our balance. At that point we need only to get back on the fence and keep going. Progress made toward the goal counts. We don’t need to go back to the beginning and start all over again.
3. Avoid thinking that in order to overcome a problem, we must focus on it and make solving the problem an overriding priority in our life. Sometimes when we are intent on overcoming a problem we become hyper vigilant, constantly monitoring our thoughts and behavior for anything inappropriate. The truth is that in that case, we may be thinking about the problem entirely too much. Whether we are caving in to temptation, or trying really hard not to, we are still involved in the problem. A better strategy is to focus on things outside of our self and our problems. Generally, by engaging in the lives of others and making their needs our focus, we experience fewer unwanted thoughts; and those we have are easier to manage. By far, the easiest times in avoiding temptation for missionaries is when they are fully involved in their mission work and less focused on themselves.
In general, no matter the number of failures, there is always hope as long as we continue to try. It’s also true that we will be more successful if we realize our eternal value and refrain from beating ourselves up in the process.
Dr. Gary G. Taylor