At some point in our lives we each become acquainted with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Often times these feelings sprout from focusing solely on our personal weaknesses and imperfections. The danger in zooming in exclusively on these, is our strengths and our individual potential can then fade out of sight, causing our self-image to be blurred by negative shadows of self-deprecation. This can be difficult to avoid though, because life is challenging. When hard things are asked or required of us, our initial response may be to think we are not good enough. To make matters worse, there may even be forces outside of our control that appear to carry our tasks up to a level of seeming impossibility. When such situations arise I find comfort in this truth taught by Elder Richard G. Scott, “Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon anytime.” As the characters in the scriptural stories become “stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar,” they can be pulled out of your memory cabinet to teach useful truths in a moment of need. One of my best friends when I need self-worth is Enoch the prophet.
The story of this friend picks up in Moses chapter 6:
26 And it came to pass that Enoch journeyed in the land, among the people; and as he journeyed, the Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him.
27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.
Enoch was asked by the Lord to go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent, this was no small task considering how wicked they were. Remember Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah, so these were some of the darkest days in the Earth’s history. And unfortunately for him, it is very rare that you find people who enjoy being told to repent, especially iniquitous people guilty of grievous sins. Now, we might not be chosen to call a civilization to repentance like Enoch, but just as he was asked to perform this difficult assignment, we are repeatedly asked to do hard things. These could be things asked of us by God, by our parents, friends, family members, church leaders, teachers and professors, or even employers. These things could range from keeping a certain commandment, fulfilling a demanding calling, going on a mission, forgiving someone, lending a helping hand or listening ear, being overworked at your job, finishing assignments, dating, or enduring irony or loneliness. In short, Enoch’s task may be generalized to include anything that requires more of us than we feel we are capable of giving.
We look now at Enoch’s response:
31 And when Enoch had heard these words, 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?
He replied the way we often reply when asked to do something difficult, by reciting a list of every reason we’re not good enough. “I’m just a boy I’m not old enough for that, the people hate me, I can’t talk.” In other words, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy! I suggest you find someone else, because I can’t do that.” Similarly overwhelmed with self-doubt, we give this same response to those asking hard things of us, and maybe even worse – to ourselves. The oddest thing is the moment someone tries to convince us to believe in ourselves, we somehow feel obliged to defend our doubts and offer an attack on our self, disguised as a counterargument just like he did. We, like Enoch, often listen to the wrong spirit. Brigham Young candidly advised, “If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to Hell because that is exactly where it came from.” I don’t believe we come into this life with low confidence and a bad self-image, I believe that comes from letting those thoughts that come from the adversary stay in our mind instead of sending them right back where they belong.
The very fact that God is asking Enoch and not someone else shows that God believes in him. But Enoch is too focused on his weaknesses and imperfections to see that. He is struggling to see himself as God sees him. The words of Elder Bruce C. Hafen offer comfort in such seasons of doubt, “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, and stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away.” As Elder Hafen says, struggling with problems in the form of imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and as we move nearer to God, our weaknesses become more detectable. This is because the closer we get to the Lord, the more often he gives us opportunities to have stretching experiences – experiences that require us to do things we’ve never done before, and to become better than we’ve ever been. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has put it, “God as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.”
So, we are in the business of making spiritual music in the form of progression. However, like Enoch we may not feel good enough or even worthy, to play the song that is requested. Hope can be found in this principle taught by Cecil O. Samuelson, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections. . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection. . . It may reflect more upon your current direction than on your final destination.” Enoch might have been under the impression that he needed to be perfect in order to perform the task of calling the people to repentance. If so, that is a troubling conclusion. If perfection was a prerequisite to being worthy of having the opportunity to perform difficult, soul-stretching tasks, not only would Jesus be the only one worthy of doing anything hard, but that would be counterproductive to the very work Jesus himself is engaged in, namely our eternal improvement. Remember, God is more concerned with our direction, we may feel weak as we ascend the upward climb toward him, but at least we know that we are moving up. And as we will learn in the Lord’s response to Enoch, we are not alone in our effort to climb.
32 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.
33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.
34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.
How interesting the Lord does not just tell Enoch to walk, but to walk with Him. In essence the Lord is saying here, “Enoch, go forth and try. All I need is your best effort. If you really feel like you can’t talk very well, then I will speak for you. I will justify whatever effort you put forward with my grace. And I will move any outside forces beyond your control, like mountains or rivers, out of your way.”
As the story of Enoch is pulled out of the memory cabinet, it must be accompanied by this truth taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Lord does not ask about our ability or inability, but only about our availability. And if we prove our dependability, the Lord will take care of our capability.” The Lord is not asking Enoch if he is able or not able to call the people to repentance. That’s simply not what He is asking. He is asking him if he is available – if he is willing to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands by trying. Then, as Enoch proves his dependability by giving his best effort, the Lord will take care of his capability and make up where he lacks. The Lord did not ask if five loaves and two fishes were able or not able to feed five thousand people, he only asked if they were available for Him to use. And as their dependability was proved by being brought forward and given to the Lord, their capability was taken care of. Likewise, when we are given soul-stretching opportunities He is not asking us whether we are able or not able to do those hard things. His concern is our availability. And just like Enoch, and the five loaves and two fishes, if we make ourselves available and prove our dependability by trying our best, the promise is the Lord will take care of our capability.
37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.
38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.
39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.
Enoch was endowed with power from on high as he proved his dependability and did as the Lord asked by testifying with boldness. The people feared him because they knew he walked with God. He was referred to as a “wild man” and “a strange thing in the land.” The transformation gets even better in the next chapter when armies are fleeing from Enoch as he moves mountains and bends rivers just as the Lord had promised.
12 And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent;
13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.
14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea.
The Lord was true to his word in taking care of Enoch’s capability, but it was more than just effort that made the difference for Enoch in this transformation from self doubt to moving mountains. If we jump back to chapter six we read:
35 And the Lord spake unto Enoch, and said unto him: Anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see. And he did so.
36 And he beheld the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.
What was the result of Enoch anointing his eyes with clay and then washing the clay from them? He was able to see with spiritual eyes rather than just his natural eyes. Seeing things with spiritual eyes included seeing himself as he really was. Surely this allowed Enoch to see that he was foreordained before this life to perform this task. It likely awarded him the ability to see himself as God saw him, which is enough to boost anyone’s self-worth.
What might the anointing the eyes with clay and then washing them represent for us? Each week we have a significant opportunity to anoint and wash our eyes, and be filled with the Holy Spirit as we partake of the sacrament. Over the course of the week our vision of our self and the world around us can become blurred and distorted by many things, but as we take advantage of this ordinance and participate properly, a renewal of the spirit will better enable us to see things as they really are. This will capacitate us not only to change our focus from our weaknesses to our strengths, but to zoom in on the Savior as he converts those weaknesses into strengths.
As our focus is altered, the way we pray will change. We will desire to follow the counsel of President Thomas S. Monson, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.” We will stop praying for tasks that are equal to our abilities, and will begin to pray for our abilities to be made equal to our tasks. Then the progression and growth will occur. As he puts it, we will be the miracle. This is an important adjustment because life will not be full of tasks that are equal to our abilities, remember struggling with problems (hard tasks) is at the very core of life’s purpose. But we agreed to these.
In the gospel reference book True to the Faith we learn:
“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. …
“The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. Although you do not remember that time, you surely agreed to fulfill significant tasks in the service of your Father”
The fact that opportunities to accept responsibility for such significant tasks were offered to us means Heavenly Father believed in us. The fact that we committed to them means we believed in ourselves. It is easy for God to carry on that belief, he does not have a veil placed over him. He never forgets our real identity or our eternal potential. I believe the reason He entrusts us with hard things to do and overcome, and gives other people opportunities to require much from us, is so we can learn things about ourselves that He already knows. Enoch needed to learn something about Enoch. He needed a chance to become who he had committed to become. That never would have happened if he had not been asked to do something he felt overwhelmed by. It is the same for us. Therefore, as we go forward, the encouraging words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell hang before us, “It is extremely important for you to believe in yourselves not only for what you are now but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now but that will unfold later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time where instead of sometimes being fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit.”
I know that if we will stay close to the Lord, make ourselves available, and continue to faithfully anoint and wash our spiritual eyes every week, we, like Enoch, will go from self-doubt to moving mountains. We will become “a strange thing in the land.”