After another stressful week, you sit in the chapel as the deacons pass the Sacrament. As you wait for a tray to reach your pew, you reflect on the past seven days. It doesn’t look pretty. Perhaps you recall harsh words, spoken in a moment of anger, to your child or your spouse. Perhaps you gaze around the room and see the members you home or visit teach, and realize that you failed once again to fulfill your duty. Or inwardly squirm as you reflect on the prompting that you ignored, or remember that you didn’t read your scriptures at all this week.
Perhaps you will let the Sacrament pass you by this time, avoiding the eyes all around as you do so. Has it been many weeks since you partook? Perhaps a secret addiction has you firmly in its grasp, or you have lived for many years away from this chapel, outside of “gospel standards.” A hot mixture of guilt, shame, and frustration overwhelms you as you review all of the ways in which you constantly and repeatedly fall short. The chasm between where you are and where you think you should be—where you yearn to be—grows wider as you gaze into its depths.
There is no soliloquy that better captures such anguish than Alma’s words:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments…
…Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
Despite outward appearances, there is no mere mortal who has, does, or will not experience some sense of this despair. No degree of talent, no portion of goodness, or number of righteous endeavors will save any one of us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
My story is typical for a Latter-day Saint living in Utah. I didn’t grow up in the Beehive state, but I was born into the Church and raised under its roof. I developed a strong testimony at a young age and had a natural desire to live the gospel. I studied at Brigham Young University and served a mission. I am now married and have two young sons, whom my husband and I continue to raise in the Church, according to the “traditions of our fathers.”
My life has been very blessed, with no major obstacles or derailments driving me away from the gospel. And yet, I have spent many moments reflecting on my accomplishments thus far and found much that was lacking. I, too, have experienced the vexation of repeated failings and felt that I could not possibly live up to Heavenly Father’s high expectations. Whole years of my life have felt like a series of struggles played on repeat, in which my imperfections and weaknesses halt my forward progress like shackles lashed around my ankles.
In such moments, when the clouds of your own human frailty obscure any light at the end of the tunnel, there is one simple truth that can pierce the darkness.
God is merciful.
You were never meant to atone for your own shortcomings. It isn’t possible to bail water out of a vessel with a massive breach in its hull. We are all broken vessels, riddled with cracks and holes. But because God is merciful, we aren’t doomed to sink.
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … ,” Moroni pleads. “Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.
I am grateful for God’s mercy because, without it, there would be no possible redemption from our sins and mistakes, no matter how desperate our efforts might be to make up for them. I am grateful for God’s mercy because it reminds me that He loved me enough to sacrifice the only truly perfect person who ever lived, for my sake. God’s mercy stills the disquiet in my mind and gently replaces it with this thought: “I would still love you if you turned your back on me forever. Turn to me, and I will bring you home.”
However slow our homeward journey may seem, as long as we continue to turn towards our Father in Heaven and the Savior, Their grace will gradually displace all our impurities and “fit [us] for the life above.” Don’t let the full realization of your desperate need for Their mercy prevent you from seeking it.
Rather, let your heart cry with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me”!
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
As you sit in the chapel this Sunday, waiting for the Sacrament, give thanks for God’s mercy. Acknowledge those sins and shortcomings that need repentance, but don’t let their presence overwhelm you. Instead, let your heart fill with thanks for the gift of mercy that makes it possible to leave them behind.
Pray with Elder Holland, “For such a perfect gift, I continue to give thanks, however inadequately.”
How has God’s mercy affected your life?