A couple of weeks ago I was in a church meeting where a man commented that he grew up with the Gospel of repentance, and now felt like he was surrounded by the Gospel of perfection. I appreciated his comment and perspective and see and feel what he said in many ways. When I am in a situation where people feel that they have to appear righteous I don’t feel the spirit strongly if at all, but I have felt the spirit very strongly in situations where people are transparent and humble in their imperfections, repentant, and in general approachable and real. I love Jesus’s teaching on this matter as contained in Luke 18:10-14:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
I believe that much of this matter comes down to living without guile. That is one of the many things I love about children. You always know where you stand with children, and you see who they really are. I believe a lack of guile is also one reason why I feel the spirit strongly in situations where people are clearly in need of repentance with no pretense that they are otherwise, such as in prison, 12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, etc., or just with people who are by nature or through experience without guile and humble.
One reason I think good people try to appear righteous, is that they feel that in order to have influence and “do good” they have to keep up appearances in order to set an example, but I don’t think this works—again, it isn’t real, and the spirit isn’t there. The people who have had the most influence over me, and from whom I have felt the spirit the most have been transparent in the fact that they have weaknesses, and I have known they are trying, along with experiencing the setbacks and inconsistencies that are part of being imperfect and human.
Wonderful attributes many times accompany a lack of pretense and guile, including often a well-developed sense of humor and an increased capacity to identify with and love others. A person’s influence emanates and expands from all of these attributes to the blessing of others.
I would say, Allison, that this is one of the keys to your influence. You are not afraid to share your weaknesses, and people identify with you. One of our former bishops who remains one of my favorite people is so in large part due to his lack of guile and other characteristics that I feel are associated with that lack of guile. I was secretary in the young men’s organization early in our time with this bishop when I went to a Saturday combined youth activity with our two oldest girls. All of a sudden a grape hit one of the girls in the forehead. We looked around and couldn’t see where it might have come from. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw someone throwing something, and another grape hit one of the girls. It was our bishop, just making us feel more welcome as we were newcomers. I am not saying that throwing grapes works for everyone; the important thing is that that is who he really is, and in so many ways he exudes playfulness, humor, and love. In the matter of helping us feel welcome, it was interesting to me how he made the inclusion of our girls one of his personal missions. He brought it up to me several times and wasn’t satisfied until he saw that they had been fully integrated into the group.
I believe it is good to stretch ourselves in the area of living without guile and becoming as genuine as possible, and I believe a person can improve on this capacity easily by making small efforts and seeing significant results, because the results, in terms of honesty, freedom, and more meaningful relationships are so rewarding. Not only does living without guile and being genuine help us become happier and benefit our relationship with God and with others, it also helps us become more self-aware, and in turn more able to change and improve. As an example from my own life, I have always struggled with my weight and am basically highly susceptible to the sin of gluttony. I have had my ups and my downs, and in the past at times when my weight has been fairly well under control, I have also fallen into the trap and sin of smugness. Then the rubber band snaps back, and I am again overweight and not at all smug. In recent years I have determined to view this problem of mine more from an Alcoholics Anonymous like perspective: I am a fat man, and all I can ever hope to be is a “recovering fat man”, even if again I lose weight and get into my target range. Perhaps I know myself better than I knew myself in the past, and I know that a plate of brownies, a chocolate chip cookie, a maple bar, or so many other things will always be a temptation for me, and that while on occasion I may exercise control I will still have that weakness in this life just like a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in twenty years still considers himself a recovering alcoholic.
Hopefully I have also given up on being smug on this issue or any other. We are all in this frail human condition together, and we have to struggle continually in our own areas of weakness, look on others with perspective and love, and humbly rely upon the Lord for help.