Most of us were raised on stories of the prophets of God. We were told of their many strengths and taught to emulate their righteousness. Yet, just as they had strengths that we can learn from, it is also important to remember that every prophet had weaknesses that we can learn from, too. Moses, Nephi, and even Brigham Young; they all had them. Here are five prophets and the weaknesses that made them strong.
1. Nephi: Giving in to Temptation
In 2 Nephi 4:17–18, Nephi laments “my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the…sins which do so easily beset me.” While Nephi never identifies which specific sins he struggled with, he confirms several times in the remainder of this chapter that he does struggle: “And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations...” (2 Nephi 4:27) and “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin…give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:28).
What can we learn from this? Despite whatever sins Nephi struggled with, he never let it stop him from being obedient in every way he could in the future. He let his weakness remind him of his duty and the importance of obeying the Lord’s commandments. After all, this is the same Nephi who boldly stated, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7) and did every difficult thing that the Lord asked of him. His last words to us were even, “For thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey” (2 Nephi 33:15).
What an amazing example for us to follow! Every single one of us has given in to temptation or made mistakes. Like Nephi, we should not let our souls “linger in the valley of sorrow” (2 Nephi 4:26) but instead we should cry unto the Lord for forgiveness and then use that experience to motivate us towards increased obedience to His commandments.
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2. Moses: Public Speaking
Moses: The man who forsook riches and privilege for poverty and hardship, who helped free the children of Israel despite immense opposition, who—with God’s help—parted the Red Sea, who led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years, and who spoke with God. He had a weakness, too. Moses was not a strong public speaker—and knew it. While talking with the Lord in Exodus chapter 4, Moses expressed his concern that he was “not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since [God hadst] spoken unto [His] servant” but was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). This was not a weakness Moses overcame by some miracle. It was something that continually plagued him, so much so that the Lord called his brother Aaron to act as Moses’s mouth (Exodus 4:14-16).
From the text in Exodus 4, it becomes clear that Moses was self-conscious of his own weaknesses. He tried twice to convince the Lord to call someone else before the Lord suggests his brother, Aaron. Imagine how he must have felt asking Aaron to speak for him. Yet Moses didn’t let pride or embarrassment stop him. He “told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him” (Exodus 4:28) and together they worked to deliver the children of Israel.
Just like Moses, we do not have to overcome all of our weaknesses on our own. God has blessed us with family members, friends, Church leaders, and even His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we can have the help we need to become Saints. If you fear public speaking, there is no shame in asking someone to help you prepare for a talk, or asking someone to let you practice speaking to them, or even reaching out for a priesthood blessing if you need it. In asking those we trust for help with a personal weakness, you will not only bless your own life but the lives of those who come to your aid.
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3. Peter: Fear
Even though Peter was appointed as the leader of the Church after Christ ascended to heaven, he still had many weaknesses. In fact, when reading the four Gospels, it often seems that Christ chastises Peter more than any other apostle. The reason was often related to what I think was Peter’s greatest weakness: fear. When Peter walked on the water with Christ, it was fear that caused him to sink (Matthew 14:30), and when Christ was on “trial,” it was fear that caused Peter to deny his Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-75). Yet, the Lord could use even this weakness to make Peter stronger.
By utilizing the enabling power of Jesus Christ, Peter used his darkest moment to learn and overcome the weakness that had plagued him for so long. We can see this in the way he responded to a situation later in his life, recorded in Acts 4 and 5. In these chapters, Peter was preaching to the people when he was arrested. There he was commanded to cease his preaching of Jesus Christ. He faced the same consequences facing him in Matthew 26, but this time Peter would not yield to fear. Peter continued to preach and was arrested again. His captors asked him, “Did not we straightly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” Peter responded by saying “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Peter no longer feared for his faith was firm in the hope of Christ.
Never before have we needed an example like Peter’s than we do in this day and age. Christ has warned us that in these, the latter days, “men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88:91, see also Luke 21:26). Disasters, wars, disease, all these things, along with all of our personal dark days and traumas, could give us plenty of reason to fear. However, we should follow the example of Peter and learn from these low points so that we can emerge faith-filled and confident in the Lord and His plan.
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4. Brigham Young: Anger
Lest you start thinking that only the prophets in the scriptures had weaknesses, let’s take a look at some modern-day prophets. President Brigham Young, the “Lion of the Lord,” struggled with anger. By his own admittance, one of his more prevalent weaknesses was his temper: “I will say, there is not a man in this house who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself.”
While he did have his slips, President Young always worked to become a master of self-control, especially in this area. He wrote “…there is not a man in the world who cannot overcome his passion, if he will struggle earnestly to do so…pray for the strength to overcome…[if] your knees are unwilling to bow, say to them, ‘Knees, get down there’; make them bend and remain there until you obtain the Spirit of the Lord.” On one occasion, a rather expensive saddle of his had fallen to the ground and had been trampled by the horses all night long. President Young called the workers together and, in his anger, reprimanded them all.
After yelling at those who worked in his stable, President Young took his own advice. He shut himself in his office and was heard to say, “Down on your knees, Brigham, get down on your knees!”
Whether we suffer from anger, lust, or any similar temptation, our ability to exercise self-control is one of the most important things we will do on this earth. Elder Bednar has said, “The precise nature of the test of mortality, then, can be summarized in the following question: Will I respond to the inclinations of the natural man, or will I yield to the enticing of the Holy Spirit and put off the natural man…?” Considering his own weakness, there is much we could learn about self-control from President Young.
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5. George Albert Smith: Mental Health
President George Albert Smith suffered from severe depression and anxiety. His grandchildren reported that some days he simply could not pull himself together and would take to his bed for several days. In 1909, while serving as the president of the Church, his depression and anxiety became so bad that for most of the year he was either bedridden or outside of Salt Lake recovering.
President Smith, in the midst of all his suffering, told the Lord that “if [his work] was complete and [God] was preparing to call [him] home, that [he] would be ready to go, but if there was more work for [him] to perform, [he] would like to get well.” It was the first time President Smith had truly surrendered the only thing he had left to the will of the Lord— his life. Following that moment, President Smith began to improve dramatically. Although he still struggled with feelings of inadequacy and an overwhelming workload, it no longer sent him spiraling into a depression, and he was pleased to work for as long as the Lord gave him strength.
In our day, we are no stranger to mental illness. We and those we love, deal with a wide range of mental health struggles and levels of severity. Make no mistake, this weakness—a heavy burden to bear—may not be “cured” the same way it was for President Smith, but we can receive comfort and strength knowing that righteous individuals, such as President Smith, have endured that path and emerged victorious. Each journey will be different, but by submitting our will to the Lord’s and seeking the treatments that work best for us, we will find the strength to carry on.
Whether it is sin, slowness of speech, fear, anger, depression, or something else, it is encouraging to remember that prophets have had similar struggles as you or I have. Weakness makes them human, and if they are human, we can emulate their examples. None of these men would have been as inspiring as they were without their weaknesses and the ways in which they overcame them. As the Lord said, “I give unto men weakness…for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).