My whole life, I’ve heard D&C 18:10-16 in relation to missionary work. “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:16).
This scripture and its emphasis on bringing even one person unto Christ and God hearkens back to the Savior’s mission and His determination to find the lost sheep: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4). It also asserts individual worth and highlights that we are all children of God and He knows us personally.
But generally, we interpret the D&C scripture to mean everyone’s efforts are equal, no matter how many people an elder or sister baptizes on their mission. Even if you don’t baptize enough people to create a ward, even if you have lessons sporadically, if you change one person's life or bring one person closer to God, it will have been worth it. I see this used time and time again from people who have written about how this scripture brought them comfort and strength to continue on their mission. I’m grateful for words which can convey so many different messages to different people.
While I appreciate this teaching, I constantly feel inadequate when I hear this scripture. I struggle with building my testimony and applying Christ’s teachings in my life. How am I supposed to teach and convert others? I don’t feel comfortable teaching many parts of the gospel I’m still building my testimony in.
My good friend told me about her interpretation of this scripture, and it has immensely helped me. I have started to apply it in my life as she taught me. Her focus is on the one clause in the middle of the scripture: “and bring, save it be one soul unto me.” She interprets that “one” to be herself.
While we were sent to help others and to uplift them, we are on earth to gain a testimony of Christ. He wants us to do our very best, and sometimes my very best is converting just myself. In no way am I valued less because of this. Even if I bring only myself unto Christ, He would rejoice and be happy. Sometimes the lost sheep is myself and I need to do everything in my power to keep myself in the fold, or as Elder M. Russell Ballard says, “stay on the Old Ship Zion.”
I think we ought to remember that we are children of God more often. When we say that phrase, it’s typically used as a way to remember to have an increase in love towards those we know to be our brothers and sisters. But seldom do we say we are children of God when thinking about loving and improving ourselves. As we recognize more often that we are children of God, we will remember to cut ourselves slack and really invest in ourselves spiritually. Sometimes it’s okay to focus on yourself and your testimony.
Christ loves us and knows us individually and perfectly. He knows when we’re capable of teaching others and when we sometimes need to focus on our testimony and personal conversion. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “God wants you to find your way back to Him, and the Savior is the way. God wants you to learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, and experience the profound peace and joy that come from following the path of divine discipleship.”