Self-confidence. It’s a word and a concept that every human struggles with at some point in their life. But it’s never something I thought I struggled with. Until I read an article on lds.org that I realized perfectly described me:
“One of the misperceptions that we may struggle with during this earth life has to do with the concept of perfection. Many falsely believe that we must achieve perfection in this life in order to be saved or exalted.
“As a therapist, I was once in a meeting with a woman when she burst into tears. She said, ‘How can I ever be good enough?’ She went on to talk about how unworthy she was. As we explored her feelings, no great sin emerged from her past or present. She just felt she wasn’t good enough. She compared herself to neighbors, friends, and relatives, and everyone that she could recall was ‘better,’ in her mind, than she was.”
I realized I can relate to this woman. I have no sins that keep me from actively using my temple recommend or compel me to visit the bishop’s office, but I often feel that everyone else sees me as being better than I actually am. Here’s why:
1) A mistaken perception of sin vs. weakness.
Throughout my life, I have heard countless prayers offered, asking God to “forgive us of our sins and our weaknesses.” I’ve even used those same words. But what I didn’t realize is that this common prayer phrase has skewed the distinction between sin and weakness, suggesting that weakness, like sin, is bad, something I need to repent of, and something I should be embarrassed for people to see. Consider this quote from Wendy Ulrich found in the April 2015 Ensign:
“We commonly think of sin and weakness as merely different-sized black marks on the fabric of our souls, different severities of transgression. But the scriptures imply that sin and weakness are inherently different, require different remedies, and have the potential to produce different results.
“Most of us are more familiar with sin than we care to admit, but let’s review: Sin is a choice to disobey God’s commandments or rebel against the Light of Christ within us. Sin is a choice to trust Satan over God, placing us at enmity with our Father. . . . We might define weakness as the limitation on our wisdom, power, and holiness that comes with being human. . . .
“We cannot simply repent of being weak—nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we reject sin, but we also do not grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God.”
Equating weakness with sin leads us to discouragement—a tactic of Satan’s that works regularly. Satan wants us to believe that weaknesses are shameful things we should hide or ignore. However, God has told us, “I give unto men weakness . . .” (Ether 12:27). God doesn’t give us sins, but He does give us weaknesses. They are gifts that open opportunities for us to practice coming closer to Him and relying on Him to improve. As I see it, sin requires that we use the forgiving power of Christ’s Atonement. Weakness calls for us to use the enabling power.
As I’ve come to better understand that God has patience with weakness and that He always loves me, it has been easier to move forward with confidence in my inherent worth, motivated by a desire to not only improve my imperfections but also look for new ones to work on.
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2) Belief that weakness is something that should be hidden from others (and myself).
I remember the first time I realized someone besides me actually saw the imperfections I tried so hard to hide. My now-fiancé and I hadn’t been dating for long when we were talking about some of our individual flaws. At some point during the discussion, I casually shrugged my shoulders and made the comment, “I’m not perfect.” I was blown away when he replied simply, though kindly, “I know you’re not. I’ve seen it.”
*Record scratch* Hold up. That wasn’t what I expected to hear—especially not from the guy who wanted to date me. After all, who wants to date an imperfect person? And weren’t you supposed to encourage the person you were potentially going to marry? Telling me I was imperfect was not what I called encouragement.
We hear people say “nobody’s perfect” all the time as a way to excuse others’ errors and mistakes, and sometimes our own. But I think secretly none of us really believes it about ourselves. We believe others have a right to be imperfect, but that we know better and should be. Add to that a social habit of giving praising comments that have been calculated to build “self-esteem,” and we have the perfect recipe for shame. But when we ignore weaknesses or treat them as casual sins, we miss what I have come to believe is true self-esteem—the inner belief that you have eternal value even if you struggle.
Despite my initial discomfort with being told by someone I care about that they saw my flaws, I’ve come to realize that it was one of the greatest compliments and boosts to my divine self-esteem I’ve ever had. It’s taken me some time to adjust to, but I’m so grateful that my fiancé was and continues to be honest and kind. I think people who believe that “love is blind”—that love means ignoring weakness—miss out on a beautiful opportunity to build others up and strengthen relationships.
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I’ve come to realize that my confidence to move forward after I discover something I’m not good at has increased. I recognize my tendencies to think selfishly or act out of pride, but I feel motivated to change them instead of compelled to mask them or try to “repent” of them. Because I’ve seen in an earthly way that someone’s love for me doesn’t change with my level of perfection, I’ve been better able to comprehend that Heavenly Father’s love for me doesn’t change in relation to my faults. I have confidence in my imperfections instead of shame over my pretended perfections. I’ve begun looking for flaws to work on instead of spending all my energy hiding them and I’m finally free to act instead of being acted upon.
Finding joy in weakness and confidence in imperfection takes time and practice. Even now that I understand it a bit better, I will probably need to practice it for the rest of my life. I just need to remember,
“Humility draws us closer to the Lord, while shame and guilt can drive us away from the Lord. God does not want us to denigrate ourselves and feel that we have little worth in His eyes. This is hurtful to Him and to us. It’s important to recognize that we are worth the time and effort it takes to change. Part of what this earth life is about is finding ways to change our weaknesses.”
“Finding Peace in Imperfection,” February 2017 Ensign
The root of our confidence is in the knowledge that Heavenly Father loves us. That He is patient with us and understands that we are working hard to please Him and live up to our divine potential. That’s not to say that we should flaunt and applaud our faults. But the way that we view them, and the way that we help others view their flaws, can impact our ability to understand and use the Atonement. Heavenly Father has promised us that He will make weak things become strong (Ether 12:27).
The lead photo is from Getty Images. It is being used for illustrative purposes only and does not reflect the opinions or feelings of the models found therein.