Many Latter-day Saints know the Church is true but have unhealthy feelings about their own inadequacies, real or imagined. The scriptures inform us that we all have weaknesses and that there is a place for them in our spiritual progress: “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).
Too often we wallow in our weaknesses so much that we do not allow “weak things” to “become strong.” Our condition is frequently misdiagnosed as humility, when in reality it is a lack of confidence.
What is the difference between the two?
To be humble is to recognize our utter dependence upon the Lord. We are conscious of our strengths, but we do not exalt ourselves and become prideful, for we know that all good things ultimately come from God. We are conscious of our weaknesses, but we know the Lord can use those very weaknesses to bless our lives and that through Him, as we learn from the book of Ether, our weaknesses can become strengths.
To lack confidence is to have feelings of low self-worth. We are preoccupied with our weaknesses, and we lack faith in the Lord’s ability to use those weaknesses for our good. We do not understand our inestimable worth in the eyes of God, nor do we appreciate our divine potential. Ironically, both pride and a lack of self-confidence cause us to focus excessively on ourselves and to deny the power of God in our lives.
Dr. Thomas Harris made the following wise observation on insecurity and confidence: “Most people never fulfill their human promise and potential because they remain perpetually helpless children overwhelmed by a sense of inferiority. The feeling of being okay does not imply that the person has risen above all his faults and emotional problems. It merely implies that he refuses to be paralyzed by them.”1
I am impressed by President Gordon B. Hinckley’s personal philosophy, which we all would do well to adopt: “I believe in myself. I do not mean to say this with egotism. But I believe in my capacity and in your capacity to do good, to make some contribution to the society of which we are a part, [and] to grow and develop. … I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world, be it ever so small.”2
I would like to present some doctrine with which most are familiar but few internalize. If we really believe it, our confidence will wax stronger.
Occasionally we need to step back from the details of our lives and reacquaint ourselves with the big picture. One summer night while I was vacationing with my family in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, I happened to look up at the sky and was overwhelmed by the clarity of the stars and the magnitude of the universe. I wondered how long it had been since I had lain on my back, stared at the sky, and let the concept of eternity and the glory of God’s creations wash over me.
Some time later, I read the words of Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952), which brought back some feelings of that night:
“Earth, stars and the vastness of space; yesterday, today and tomorrow; and the endlessly increasing knowledge of the relations of forces, present an illimitable universe of numberless phenomena. Only in general outline can the universe be understood. In its infinite variety of expression, it wholly transcends the human mind.
“… In the midst of this complexity, man finds himself. As he progresses from childhood to manhood, and as his slumbering faculties are awakened, he becomes more fully aware of the vastness of his universe and of the futility of hoping to understand it in detail.
“Nevertheless, conscious man can not endure confusion. Out of the universal mystery he must draw at least the general, controlling laws that proclaim order in the apparent chaos; and especially is he driven, by his inborn and unalterable nature, to know if possible his own place in the system of existing things.”3
What is our place in this vastness of “existing things”?
We know that each of us has always existed in some form. The scriptures teach us: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). We know that we became the spirit children of heavenly parents, thereby inheriting the genes of godhood, and we were nurtured by these parents in the heavens. As President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) so beautifully put it: “There was a period when we, with Jesus and others, basked in the light of the presence of God and enjoyed His smiles. We are the children of God, and as His children there is no attribute we ascribe to Him that we do not possess, though they may be dormant or in embryo. The mission of the Gospel is to develop these powers and make us like our Heavenly Parent.”4
We know that the manner in which we lived in the premortal existence qualified us to be foreordained to the offices and responsibilities we have received here on earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.”5
We have had a veil of forgetfulness drawn over our minds about these matters. President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) said, “All those salient truths which come home so forcibly to the head and heart seem but the awakening of the memories of the spirit.”6
With the help of the scriptures, words of the prophets, and personal revelation, we gradually come to an awareness of our true nature and destiny. Once we grasp this reality, we can obtain the faith to move forward and overcome any obstacle standing in our way of fulfilling our foreordained destiny—including the obstacle of feelings of low self-worth.
We learn further from the scriptures how to gain confidence: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).
In other words, the Lord endows us with confidence as we practice “charity towards all men” and have righteous thoughts. One way we can practice charity is to be generous in our praise of others, thus helping them gain confidence as well. I have always loved the feeling Alma had for Ammon and his brethren when they met after a separation. “I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi,” Alma said.
“Behold, they have labored exceedingly, and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!
“Now, when I think of the success of these my brethren my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy” (Alma 29:14–16).
I believe that Alma’s healthy sense of accomplishment and his knowledge that the Lord approved of his efforts helped him to have sincere joy for his brethren. While he gave the credit for his success to the Lord, he did not feel guilty for knowing he had done well.
I am convinced that when we obtain a witness of who we really are and possess healthy feelings of self-worth because of it, our joy in the accomplishments of others is magnified. When that joy is felt, we should share it.
How blessed we are to know where we came from and what we have the potential to become. Let each of us work harder to recognize the accomplishments of others as well as being aware of our own talents and successes. And let us be confident in the knowledge that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10) and that with the Lord’s help, we can accomplish far more than we could ever do on our own.
Ask family members to share experiences when they were asked to do something they felt unprepared or inadequate to do.
What does Elder Pace say about the difference between lacking confidence and being humble?
Talk about the doctrines that Elder Pace said could help us gain greater confidence.