What does it mean to be worthy?
by Autumn Dickson
As I was reading through Lehi’s vision this week, I was struck by a verse that I have thought about plenty before. For context, we see large groups of people moving towards the fruit of the tree which represents the love of God. There are lots of things occurring, but here’s just one:
1 Nephi 8:25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
As we continue on reading, we learn that there was a great and spacious building representing the pride of the world, and it was filled with people. Some of the people who came and partook of the love of God looked around, saw the building, and they became ashamed as they were moved by those who were in this building.
But I saw something new in that verse this time. I know that Nephi explains the reason that these people felt ashamed. However, the Spirit whispered another possible interpretation to me.
I have found that there are many of us in the church who partake regularly of the love of God. However, despite this regular partaking, we still feel ashamed of ourselves for past transgressions. I don’t think this is a completely abnormal feeling; in fact, I think it’s actually quite natural. When you find yourself partaking of something that pure, it can be hard to look back at your less-than-pure actions and intentions in comparison. It makes it doubly difficult if those less-than-pure actions and intentions still haunt you in the form of feelings and memories.
Though I believe that this can be a “natural” response, I don’t think it’s a feeling we should entertain. The Lord utilizes guilt to help us come back, but He does not utilize shame. Shame is an unhelpful feeling that draws us away from God in every instance. Whether we’re ashamed because we’re being mocked by others or if we’re ashamed because of our past sins, shame will never bring us closer to Him. It will only cause us to withdraw and hide. Shame comes from Satan.
I think that shame, at least in this particular context, stems from a misunderstanding about what it means to be worthy.
What does it mean to be worthy?
What does it mean to be worthy? We know the atonement paid for our sins, but we also know that the Lord still has expectations for us. We have learned our entire lives that there is a Judgment Day, and it will be determined whether we have been worthy.
The Lord has taught me about this a lot over the past few years. He has taught me about His atonement, and He has taught me about His perfect judgment.
My understanding of Judgment Day used to look something like this: I believed I would stand before the Lord and He would tally up all the good and bad I had done. The Lord paid for the bad, but it still had to be determined whether I had done enough. The “good” and the “bad” also included desires and thoughts rather than just actions. He would then place these things in the context of my life, the opportunities I was given as well as the weaknesses and struggles I received.
I have learned that Judgment Day (all of the mini judgments in between) are not really determined like this. Understanding the atonement and what it means is key to understanding what Judgment Day will look like. The atonement of Jesus Christ paid for all sin so that it would no longer count against us. The sin you committed yesterday, the one you will commit today, and the one you will commit tomorrow are gone. They were paid off. When you stand before the Lord on the other side, you’re not going to find any “tally marks” on the bad side because they’re not there anymore. Judgment Day isn’t about the sum total of your good and bad actions (thoughts and desires included).
Judgment Day really is about who you are. The Lord judges us by our hearts. When you stand before the Lord, He is going to determine something very simple: will you contribute to the feeling of the Celestial Kingdom? When people are around you, will they know that you mean well even if you’re not perfect yet? Do you contribute to a happy, spiritual home? Do you love Him and do you love others? Do you understand the importance of wielding power responsibly? Do you already experience the peace that comes with living with integrity?
This has completely changed how I approach the gospel. It has changed from perfectionism (minimizing bad and maximizing good) to simply attempting to utilize the commandments to get closer to Christ. I no longer hold onto my sins, but I allow the Savior to take them away because they’re not really there anymore. I actually get to experience the blessings that come with the gospel: redemption and closeness to Christ.
Perhaps this view of Judgment Day still has you feeling worried…you have flaws that will certainly take away from the heavenly feeling in the Celestial Kingdom. I’m obviously not a perfect judge, but let’s discuss those flaws too. Sometimes I yell at my kids (especially when I’m pregnant), and sometimes I still have a hard time forgiving and assuming the best of others. BUT. I have a desire that runs much, much deeper than those flaws. I want to be free of those flaws. I want to follow the Savior perfectly and willingly; it’s just difficult sometimes. When I get to the other side, and Satan can no longer tempt me and all secrets are out, I will be free of those flaws. The only time flaws are going to follow you to Judgment Day is if you are clinging to them all on your own. For example, if you need to forgive someone but you refuse to, then when you get to the other side you’re going to continue to hold onto that flaw regardless of the fact that Satan is no longer tempting you. If you have a deep and abiding desire to follow the Savior and love others (even if you’re not perfect yet), then you’re going to be just fine. Trust that the atonement took care of it so that you can start enjoying the blessings of the gospel now.
And let’s not forget this is all placed in the context of our lives as well. Not everyone has been taught or given the advantages that come with growing up in a healthy home. The Lord knows that. However, I teach this doctrine because there are a lot of people out there who do understand the importance of worthiness and are given advantages, and a lot of these people are worried about their personal worthiness. Make the switch from desperately trying to be good enough to simply trying to draw closer to Christ. Interestingly enough, it actually helps you develop the kind of character that belongs in the Celestial Kingdom. Following the gospel in this manner allows you to experience the blessings of the gospel rather than experiencing the negative side effects of perfectionism. It allows you to partake of the fruit of the tree and experience gladness and joy and relief without any of the shame.
All we have to do is remain at the tree
Satan uses shame because it logically makes sense. He knows that we know that we don’t deserve the atonement, and he uses that logic against us. Because it’s logical, we don’t really question it. But we need to! It’s dangerous and incomplete. Shame is uncomfortable enough that it would cause us to shy away from the Lord so we don’t have to feel that shame anymore.
But Satan is also just distracting us from the good feeling that is meant to come with partaking of the fruit. God put that tree there, not so He could stand around and make us feel bad for eating it. He wants us to take it so we can be close to Him. You don’t deserve it, you have hurt Him, you have caused Him pain, but don’t make it worse by retreating from Him. Don’t deprive Him of your company because whether it makes logical sense or not, He wants your company.
If you also want to consider logic, consider this: Christ experienced all of the bad feelings we experience so stop holding yourself hostage with sin that was already paid for. If you have repented and been deemed forgiven, then lift up your head and rejoice. Turn shame into a deep gratitude. If you really want to be a better person, if you really want the ability to become everything He wants you to become, then cling to His love and let it fill you until the shame isn’t there anymore. That is what will fill you with light. That is what people will notice when they see you. That will be the reason for the joy in your eyes: His love has changed you and turns all the bad in your life into goodness.
I know some of us are still haunted by past sins. Even if we’ve repented, you can’t always get rid of the memories, and Satan will use them against you for as long as he can. If you find yourself in this situation, take heart in two gospel principles:
1) If you continue on the road you’re on, staying near to the tree, then one day Satan will be bound and there will be no more temptation. You will be freed from those past aspects of your life – another reason to find ultimate gratitude!
2) Turn those “bad” things upside down. Christ’s atonement gives you the power to do that. Every time those memories pop up, rewrite the story with the Savior. Instead of saying to yourself, “There it is again, a memory of my past that will forever remind me I don’t deserve this,” say, “Here is an opportunity to become even better. Here is a thought that has been placed in my mind that I have the power to replace with something more powerful. Satan has presented me with a stepping stone to become stronger.” And if you falter and those memories linger longer than you would have liked, repeat the process anyway! Repentance is about becoming perfect, but the “becoming” process is going to take way longer than you think. In terms of this mortal life, it’s not about never failing again, it’s about being able to cast off Satan enough that you remain close to the tree, to His love. Remaining close to the tree is what is going to actually bring the perfection we so desire.
I testify of a Savior who never wanted us to carry shame. I testify that He utilizes guilt to the extent that it changes us because He loves us enough to push us. I also testified that He paid for sin so that it can’t hurt us anymore. We only hurt ourselves by depriving ourselves of His company on purpose – whether we do it by willingly rebelling or holding ourselves down under the weight of shame. We also hurt Him when we do that because I testify of a Savior who wants to be around you.
Autumn Dickson was born and raised in a small town in Texas. She served a mission in the Indianapolis Indiana mission. She studied elementary education but has found a particular passion in teaching the gospel. Her desire for her content is to inspire people to feel confident, peaceful, and joyful about their relationship with Jesus Christ and to allow that relationship to touch every aspect of their lives.