At every stage of our lives, we struggle to overcome our weaknesses. And as we do, we reflect on the familiar words of an ancient prophet who agonized over his own weakness. As Moroni labored to chronicle sacred events on metal plates, he was deeply concerned about his weakness in writing. Perhaps, he worried, future readers would not be able to feel the power of the inspired messages he was recording (see Ether 12:23–26). When he humbly turned to the Lord, the Lord revealed these words to him:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; 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).
The Lord’s response to Moroni can enlarge our understanding of the purpose of weaknesses in our lives and the way to overcome them. We can feel hope and the same peace in our souls that Moroni did. Three vital steps can help replace a weakness with a strength: recognizing the problem, being determined to overcome it, and relying on the Lord for help.
As Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) observed: “It is not an easy thing … to be shown one’s weaknesses. … Nevertheless, this is part of coming unto Christ, and it is a vital, if painful, part of God’s plan of happiness.”1
Some people feel defeated by their personal weaknesses and succumb to despair. Some attempt to hide, ignore, or compensate for their shortcomings because of pain and embarrassment. But, as the Lord told Moroni, recognizing and acknowledging a weakness is a necessary part of overcoming it: “Because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong” (Ether 12:37).
A little girl named Jackie faced a devastating weakness that deeply affected her life—an inability to read. For years she experienced daily rejection and humiliation.
She said, “I was in second grade, and already I knew I was dumb. I just didn’t ever really catch on to reading.” Day after day and year after year the humiliation continued. Jackie said, “I was either told directly I was stupid or was asked, ‘Haven’t I already told you that a thousand times?’” She was labeled “lazy” and “a daydreamer.” Comments like these, she said, “caused me such emotional stress that it was like having a curtain drawn across my mind.” Being called upon to read aloud in class was excruciating. “Even when I knew the words, I could not say them,” she recalled. “Tears would well up in my eyes and blur the page.”
Soon Jackie learned to cover for her weakness or avoid situations that would reveal her dreaded secret. When she and her friends visited the local library, she followed their lead in checking out popular mystery books. But even though she carried the books home, she could never read them or join in her friends’ lively discussions about the characters and plots. She also found herself failing nearly every subject in school. Finally, at age 15, she decided to drop out of school and get married.
This decision could have led to more serious problems and a permanent detour from learning. Instead, through the loving, ongoing encouragement of her husband, the watchful care of the Lord, and her own determination, things began to change. “My husband has been my lifesaver,” she explained. “He always treated me like I was the smartest person he ever saw.” Many years later, this mother of eight children graduated from high school—one year before her eldest daughter.
Jackie continued her education beyond high school, but each day was a struggle. “I cried every day, it was so hard,” she said. Her husband gave her priesthood blessings, and a daughter tutored her in algebra, leaving her little notes of encouragement. In faith, Jackie turned to the Lord and prayed for His help. Finally, after years of effort, she received a college degree at age 50. Her weakness ultimately became a great strength as she pursued a career path that became a great blessing to others also struggling to read. The little girl who once thought she was too dumb to read now directs a statewide program that helps children with reading difficulties.2
The challenging process of facing and overcoming our weaknesses can refine us, make us more profitable servants, and bring us closer to the Savior.
Once we have recognized a weakness, we need strong determination and great effort to overcome it.
One young woman who was a lifelong member of the Church chose not to enroll in the seminary program in high school and seldom read the scriptures. After her marriage, she realized that she couldn’t continue to live on the borrowed light of others’ testimonies; she needed to develop a testimony of her own. She decided to read the Book of Mormon for the first time. At first it was difficult to concentrate. Then she realized she must ponder and pray about what she read. That was the beginning of overcoming her weakness.
As her small family grew larger and the demands on her time became greater, she set aside precious moments each day to read, study, and pray. The words in the scriptures became sweet to her, and she looked forward to “feasting upon the word of Christ” (2 Ne. 31:20). She also immersed herself in the other standard works, and her spiritual confidence grew.
Yearning to instill firm testimonies in her children, she, along with her husband, made gospel learning and scripture study a top priority. Each morning at breakfast they read the scriptures together and engaged in gospel discussions. Family home evening lessons also included the scriptures. Years later she received a calling to teach her sisters in the Relief Society, some of whom had not read the scriptures or were struggling with their testimonies. She encouraged these women to turn to the scriptures with full energy of heart, and she bore the strong testimony she had gained of Jesus Christ and of the Book of Mormon.
Sometimes, in spite of all we do to “make weak things become strong,” the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, does not take away our weakness. The Apostle Paul struggled throughout his life with “a thorn in the flesh,” which he said served to humble him “lest [he] should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). Three times Paul asked the Lord to take away his weakness, and three times the Lord declined to do so. The Lord then explained that His grace was sufficient for Paul and that, in fact, His strength was actually “made perfect in weakness.” Then Paul wrote, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
Like Paul, we can find positive meaning in weaknesses that are not taken away. Surely nothing is quite as humbling as having a weakness that we cannot overcome but must continue to struggle with throughout our life. Such a weakness teaches us, in a very personal way, that after all we can do we must rely on the grace of Christ to make up the difference.
As we humbly submit our will to the Lord’s, we find that our weaknesses can indeed become sources of strength if we put our trust in Him.
Invite a family member to lift a heavy object alone first, then with another’s help. Read the two stories from this article and discuss how the Lord helped the two women. Talk about how the activity and stories relate to Ether 12:27. Share your own experiences with this scripture.
Discuss Elder Maxwell’s statement. Invite family members to examine their lives and choose a weakness to overcome. Encourage them to pray daily and keep a record of their progress.