Wednesday in my Book of Mormon class we studied Helaman 12 where Mormon pauses from the narrative to remind us of our nothingness. “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.” -Helaman 12:7-8 It is a lengthy and strongly worded sermon and a wonderful lesson on the importance of humility. But there was a concern raised about going too far: becoming “humble” to the point where we become self-deprecating. This concern and the discussion following has stayed with me and I wanted to try and decipher the secret a little more for myself and hopefully for anyone who reads this.
The first key I thought of is perspective. In Doctrine and Covenants section 4 God describes one of the important characteristics that we should strive for is to have an eye single to his glory. Often I have found myself meditating on what exactly that means. Through much study I have come to believe that it means that we see the same way he does, or come to have a single eye with him. We need to adopt God’s perspective. In the case of our nothingness we need to have his perspective in two ways. First, how does God see us in comparison to him? In a sermon given by one of the leaders of the LDS church Dieter F. Uchtdorf, he spoke of how God sees us like toddlers still learning how to walk. This should be humbling to us. We need to understand that compared to God we are completely powerless. At the same time this perspective can help us avoid self-deprecation. Do we get mad at a baby who can’t walk? Of course not. In the same way we need to have God’s perspective and see that we are so very young. We will fall, but God doesn’t get angry with us. He will encourage us to get up and try again.
We also need to adopt God’s perspective in seeing ourselves in comparison to others. We had a great lesson on this subject in church on Sunday. They brought three people to the front of the room. Two of them stood shoulder to shoulder and the teacher asked who was taller. It wasn’t hard to see. Then he had the third person stand on a table and look straight down on the two girls. The teacher asked which was taller and the man on the table observed that from his perspective, it wasn’t possible to tell. This reminded me of a great talk in an LDS conference by church leader Dale G. Renlund. In this talk Elder Renlund shares the following anecdote:
Some years ago a wonderful young man named Curtis was called to serve a mission. He was the kind of missionary every mission president prays for. He was focused and worked hard. At one point he was assigned a missionary companion who was immature, socially awkward, and not particularly enthusiastic about getting the work done.
One day, while they were riding their bicycles, Curtis looked back and saw that his companion had inexplicably gotten off his bike and was walking. Silently, Curtis expressed his frustration to God; what a chore it was to be saddled with a companion he had to drag around in order to accomplish anything. Moments later, Curtis had a profound impression, as if God were saying to him, “You know, Curtis, compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different.”
I love that quote, “Compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different.” It is a constant reminder that life isn’t a competition with other people! We can’t become proud because we understand that God isn’t comparing those “worse” than us to us. And we can’t become self-deprecating because God isn’t comparing those who are “better” than us, to us. We must always maintain God’s perspective.
The second key is much more simple and yet we often find it difficult to do. The key is turning outward. All problems of pride or self-deprecation come because we are thinking too much about ourselves. To heal our bodies we must turn inward with medicine and surgery, but to heal our spirits we must turn outward with charity and service.
I know that by following these rules, we can all be humble followers of Christ, and we can remember our nothingness as taught by Mormon, as well as our self-worth and great value in the sight of God.