An Uncomfortable Personal Dichotomy


Sometimes I’m quietly observant, other times I’m loudly observant. Recently, I have been seeing some things in the media and reading some opinions that have me wanting to make a little bit of noise about a very real conflict – a dichotomy – that we share as people and as members of the Church. But to do that, please allow me to take you to Africa…

A few years ago, I was helping run a terrific humanitarian group that operates in Africa. We were having a few growing pains, mostly regarding issues with our staff of about fifty local workers. Nothing major, just the normal things most any small enterprise deals with on a regular basis – absenteeism, demands for higher wages, competence, grumbling, waste, etc.

On one of my trips there, we had a staff meeting where I had the opportunity to address some of those concerns. Rather than tackle them individually, I felt that a dose of perspective was needed. Here is a brief summary of the two main points:

• Each one of you is IMPORTANT. Including me. Every one of us has special skills and talents that make things work – and that is why you have ben hired. If one of you doesn’t show up for work, something doesn’t get done. Each one of you makes a difference, and when we are all pulling together, we make wonderful progress. But it takes each one of you, with your individual skills and individual talents, and individual efforts to make that happen.  Each one of you is vital to the organization. Each one of you is important.. (Everyone was happy to hear this.)

That said…

• Each one of you is NOT IMPORTANT. Including me. If anyone here today were to leave, there would be a hundred people lined up to take your spot by tomorrow morning – many of them more qualified than you are. If you don’t want to show up for work, someone else will. If you don’t like your paycheck, someone else would be thrilled to earn and spend it. Basically, the program will move along just fine without you. You are not vital to the long term success of what we are doing. The question is if you want to be a part of it – or not. (Not as many smiles at this point.)

Yeah, it was a little harsh, but when the reality of the dichotomy sunk in, and that perspective was front and center, we were able to make quick work of the issues at hand.

Oh, and this wasn’t originally my idea – I kind of stole it – from God.

In the Book of Moses, Chapter 1, God gives Moses a tour of his creations, while extending a calling to him.

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” (vs 3-4)

After establishing that Moses was a son of the Almighty God, (Which is pretty cool, and pretty flattering) God then presented Moses with the dichotomy:

“And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.

And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (vs 8-10)

Moses went from feeling like a “son of God,” to feeling like “nothing,” in the space of one vision. He witnessed many of the wonderful creations that God had made, then was literally brought to his knees, without the energy to even stand.

Why the extremes? I like to call it “Instant Perspective.”

When we understand the larger perspective, and not just fixate on one side or the other, we operate from a place of more wisdom.

• There is a temptation in the Church and the world to see ourselves as insignificant, that we don’t really matter very much in the grand scheme of things. That is OK- to a point -because it is true. Being aware of this leads to humility, which can lead to wonderful things. I find it interesting that God wanted Moses to understand his “nothingness,” before he was privy to the grand visions that followed. Humble people are teachable people.

King Benjamin tried to instill a similar perspective when he said, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:21)

KIng Banjamin

• There is also the important knowledge that the things we do here on Earth matter – that we can impact the lives of others – that we really CAN make a difference. We are called to serve, share and try and make an impact on society. Being aware of this can lead to good works.

“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!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15-16)

It is our duty to help “bear off the Kingdom triumphantly.” (President Ezra Taft Benson)

• There is also a temptation to believe that somehow we are more crucial to the work moving forward than we really are – that out efforts, and our opinions somehow carry such weight that the Church would somehow suffer without our unique contributions. The news is full of members and ex-members who feel this way, but soon realize that the metaphor of removing a hand from a bucket of water is very real.

The dichotomy is readily taught throughout gospel teachings:

Each one of us IS important.

“Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10)

“May we reach out and rescue those who have fallen by the wayside, that not one precious soul will be lost.” (President Thomas Monson)

“You may feel that there are others who are more capable or more experienced who could fulfill your callings and assignments better than you can, but the Lord gave you your responsibilities for a reason. There may be people and hearts only you can reach and touch. Perhaps no one else could do it in quite the same way.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

Each one of us is NOT important.

“The church is like a great caravan – organized, prepared, following an appointed course… What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.” (Bruce R. McConkie)

“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (Joseph Smith)

The DANGER in wallowing in the idea of our own un-importance, or using it as an excuse to shirk our duties, is that even though the “caravan moves on,” without us, it could very well move on without our children, and our children’s children. Not to mention those countless people we might be able to help along the journey. No one lives in a vacuum. While the Church will get there either way, we could really make a mess out of things by claiming this as a reason to not “stay in the boat.”

Simply put, the “Instant Perspective” is this:

The Church will move on until Christ comes to take charge. It will move on with or without me. If I choose to be important and involved in the work, it is up to ME to get on board, get busy and stay on the boat. I have the potential to be an important contributor, and to be of infinite and eternal worth to the souls of those I touch.

I can choose to be un-important, and just one of the billions who move through this world without making much of a positive impact.

I am merely a speck of dust, yet I am a son of God.    I am both, and that dichotomy – that perspective – propels me forward with a sense of purpose, and a dose of humility.




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  1. You have just become my favorite Mormon blogsite because of this one and the ‘What’s missing when we teach the Plan of Salvation’ blog. Great ideas. I just had to write because ‘The Caravan Moves On’ by Elder McConkie (I’m sure you are aware there are more verses) is one of my favorite things that he has written, and I remind myself all the time that I can be happiest in life if I just stay with the caravan.

  2. Due to a very busy week and an overflowing Gospel Doctrine class due to missionary farewells this was my Sunday School lesson today. Thank you MMM for the message. It filled a void I needed filling not just in time but in spirit.

  3. Thank you for sharing this message! I so appreciate your blog and how it uplifts, teaches and inspires.

  4. Sister Beck’s talk, “Women Who Know,” is my favorite example of this. She talks about how cleaning a toilet will never be all that great, but if you are doing it for your family and to allow the Spirit into your home then what you are doing is elevated. I need the purpose the gospel provides me. That sense of “higher cause” gets me through all the diapers and cleaning and beating my head against a brick wall that is parenting. If I didn’t have a solid belief in the supernal purpose of what I was doing, I’d quit. It goes without saying, however, that no Mormon “Mother Who Knows” has any illusions about her own abilities and learns to trust and rely on her Heavenly Parents and Savior more each and every day.

  5. This helps me understand my calling as a Sunday School teacher of teenagers. Who knows but I might touch one of the children even when I’m not aware of it. Who knows? I’ll just keep on trying.

  6. I absolutely LOVE Moses 1. I love Moses’ surety about who he is, as a child of God, and I love the power that that gives him in his encounter with Satan. I love how each time he counters Satan his response gets both more brief and more powerful until, in the name of Jesus Christ, he dismisses him entirely.
    I too saw a great contrast in Moses 1 but I read it slightly differently. I saw the blessings God pronounced on Moses that were at the same time very personal…

    (verses 25-26, Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God. And lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days; for thou shalt deliver my people from bondage, even Israel my chosen.)

    …and infinite…

    (verse 37, And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.)

    For me it echoed the atonement which is both intimate and infinite. The Saviour did it for all of us, but he would have done it just for me. Moving along a couple of verses – verse 39, everyone’s favourite Seminary scripture, is a great one to personalise.

    For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of Gemma

    Purpose and humility – you encapsulate in a great conclusion.

  7. Wow, what a powerful and important message. You say things so beautifully Brad – you are in tune with the spirit for sure. Thank you.

  8. Thinking (mixed) metaphorically. Let us keep in mind: “A rising tide raises all boats”. (And the reverse) Then consider that though the water in the bucket may so instantaneously fill the hole left by the withdrawing hand that we lose track of the positive effect of the hand still in the water, We must observe and admit that when the hand is withdrawn, the overall level of the water in the bucket goes down. The level of the water may then be observed to have been and yet be critical to the effective function of other hands (or parts of the body). The whole may thus be degraded. Returning the tide and boats metaphor, if the tide takes the water level a down too far, some boats with deep keels, deep hulls and tall masts may list beyond their ability to recover; the returning tide may simply flood ports and hatches and swamp the boat (permanently). Back to the bucket now; some in the bucket may be depending on the water level to be able to see over the rim so as to see and assist ones outside the bucket who desperately need to get in and gain access to the life giving water within. Also, abrupt removal of the hand will cause turbulence, which may be deadly to small or weak ones barely managing to stay afloat the surface.

    1. Wow, perfect. Thank you–this is actually making me a little teary: “some in the bucket may be depending on the water level to see over the rim…” As a university prof more ready to retire than to love my ever-younger, seemingly-more-unprepared students, I need constant reminders that small gestures may make a huge difference, whether it’s in secular academic realms or otherwise. And are not all things spiritual, anyway? Thanks

  9. Once my grandmother gave my Dad (who was young at the time) this poem (Dad told me it was during a time that he was quite full of himself, having put her thru nursing school and helping to raise his two siblings at age 11+)… The Indispensable Man

    (by Saxon White Kessinger)

    Sometime when you’re feeling important;
    Sometime when your ego ‘s in bloom;
    Sometime when you take it for granted,
    You’re the best qualified in the room:
    Sometime when you feel that your going,
    Would leave an unfillable hole,
    Just follow these simple instructions,
    And see how they humble your soul.

    Take a bucket and fill it with water,
    Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
    Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
    Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
    You can splash all you wish when you enter,
    You may stir up the water galore,
    But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
    It looks quite the same as before.

    The moral of this quaint example,
    Is to do just the best that you can,
    Be proud of yourself but remember,
    There’s no indispensable man.

  10. I appreciate your contributions to my mind fodder, MMM. I’ve been struggling with the “Oh, wretched woman that I am” vs “nevertheless I know in whom I trust” dichotomy of weakness vs worthiness. Of myself, I know very well that I am nothing, but as I choose faith in Him, I trust that He is able to do His work and glory in me, so I can be/become all that I am. He has made ample provisions for me. This is important to keep in mind because I suffer from seasonal depression, so the battle of “wretchedness” vs “worthiness” is a little more intense this time of year. I think accepting that I am both worthy and weak does keep me humble even as I strive “to come unto Christ to be perfected in Him.”

  11. Ditto what Lisa said. This is something I really needed to hear about four years ago — but better late than not at all!

  12. I spent a long time as a youth feeling unneeded and unwanted, especially in the church. It was my own quorums that sent me home from school with bruises or locked me out of the building for scouts. Thankfully I stayed, something felt more important, more essential to me than even being safe from them. As I studied and pondered my scriptures and attended my early morning seminary, arms of mercy enshrouded me, I felt loved. I worked hard to overcome my feelings from my youth and operate in the gospel from the holy place that offers the confidence mentioned at the end of D&C 121. Then one day an older member of my ward tried to hit me over the head with the bucket poem in the middle of the gospel doctrine class I was teaching. He wanted me to know that I had no right to feel needed, or to be confident.

    I think too often we see each other in this same dichotomy, we espouse the worth of souls is great in the sight of God, and then we treat each other like we were disposable and easily replaced.

    I was told once that true humility is to see yourself as the Lord sees you, I think that true charity is to see others as the Lord sees them, both our nothingness without him and our infinite worth to him.

  13. I needed to hear this today, right this very moment. Thank you for not watching SportsCenter reruns and instead, using your talent to uplift and inspire the weary traveler.

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