June 26, 2011

worthy of worthiness

last sunday - father's day - i gave a talk in church. my father, who is a counselor in my bishopric assigned me the topic of worthiness.

i was extremely hesitant at first.

he was extremely persistant.

the following is my talk.....

i would like to paraphrase a part from the literary classic, les misérables by victor hugo that has recently become very tender to me. for those of you who know the story well, i am merging the actual novel with the cinematic interpretation in which liam neeson stars.... so just go with me on this.

at the center of this story stands jean valjean, a convict from a peasant background. he was thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. initially receiving a 5-year sentence, he ends up spending a total of 19 years in prison because of the several times he tried to escape. he has just been released from prison. a middle-aged man now, of 46 years old, he is given yellow parole papers that brand him “criminal” for his past wrongs.

on his way to his destination, valjean passes through a town after traveling a great distance and is both hungry and tired so he searches for a place that will sell him some food and a place to sleep. however, news travels fast of his arrival in town and the criminal he is and he’s consequently rejected from every inn, the jail, and a doghouse {even the dog seems to know how “awful” he is}. no amount of money makes the people of this town interested in associating with a known criminal.

when he knocks on the last door, the residence of a man known as “bishop welcome,” and asks for a bit of food, the bishop invites valjean in to dine with him - free of charge - and offers him a place to sleep. valjean pulls out his parole papers and tells this well-meaning man who he is, what he has done, and that he obviously should not be trusted. he proclaims there are no good people in this world and he does not trust anyone so nobody should trust him. unphased, this priest welcomes valjean into his home and tells him that they’re just going to have to trust each other.

in the middle of the night, valjean gets up and steals the silverware {and in the movie, punches the priest}, then fleas. he is caught by the police and brought back to the priest who claims that he gave valjean the silver as a gift and that he had forgotten the candlesticks.

i would like to propose that there are many of us like jean valjean.

we are by no means perfect people – we may have a long string of wrongs in our past. there may be something physically branding us with our past mistakes, but many times it’s the mental branding we create for ourselves. we seek a bit of peace from the storm of life, nourishment to satisfy the hunger caused by a superficial world and a need for love.

yet as we stand in the doorway before the Lord, who graciously offers us His mercy, we exclaim --- “no! don’t you see? Lord, i am a sinner! I don’t deserve your kindness, your mercy, your love.” .... we list all our past wrongs for Him to emphasize our point.

some of us may go further still, and because we feel the need to prove just how awful a person we feel we are, how unworthy our lives have become, revisit a previous wrong or act out in another way as a sort of plea saying, “there. now you really can’t save me. i’m not worth it. i’m hopeless. i’m worthless.

over and over and over again, this cycle continues because when we feel that we aren’t worthy, that we’ll never reach the expectation set for us, our motivation falters.

the real problem? we don’t understand that the Lord is standing there, ever-patient with us, saying, “i have ransomed your soul. if you but take my hand and use my gift, i will make up for what you lack. you are not worthless. i can make up the difference and make you worthy again. you can trust me.

in his beautifully simple, faith-building book believing Christ, stephen e. robinson assured us that the Lord is capable of doing his work. we have no need to fear; he can save us from our sins, from our weaknesses, inadequacies, and whatever else we feel we lack. it is one thing to believe in Christ but another to believe Christ. listen to brother robinson's description:

many of us are trying to save ourselves, holding the Atonement of Jesus Christ at arm's distance and saying, "when i've done it, when i've perfected myself. . . , then i'll be worthy of the Atonement . . . ." [but] that's like saying, "when i am well, i'll take the medicine. i'll be worthy of it then." [believing Christ/“believing Christ: a practical approach to the atonement --- byu 1989-­90 devotional and fireside speeches (provo: brigham young university, 1990), p. 124]

my dad mentioned that i was hesitant to give this talk. it was because he told me the topic was "worthiness".... and i asked if he could find someone else. finally i explained that i didn't feel worthy to give a talk on worthiness. he looked at me and said, "oh lacey, i don't think anyone feels worthy to give a talk on worthiness." so on this father's day i want to say how grateful i am for a father who has knowledge and insight, who is in-tune with the spirit, and who was able to give me a topic that would challenge me and help me most to grow.

we all know it. we cannot save ourselves. we know the Savior atoned for us and He is the only way back to the Father.

barbara day lockhart said, “what we think of ourselves is of great concern to the Lord. He implores us to not hate ourselves and others. Can we even begin to fathom the love he has for us? His work and his glory is to have us come home to him. we are the focus of his existence. if we will trust in his love, receive it into our lives, we will want to walk with him always, live his commandments, and do his will. we will not want anything to come between ourselves and our Savior.”

in my new favorite scripture verses, romans 8: 35, 37-39 paul teaches us the most beautiful truth.

reading these verses helped me to start understanding some of the extent of the Lord’s love for each of us. in these verses, paul is teaching us that nothing, not even our sins, will make the Lord love us less. He loves us and we must trust in that love.

once we do,
         we will want to be worthy of it.

in closing, alma testifies to helaman in alma 36 of his conversion and i will just read verse 3.

i have a testimony that i am not worthy. none of us are. we are not worthy by ourselves. but when we put our trust in God, He makes up the difference and we can be worthy. true joy comes from being worthy and that feeling motivates me to do everything i can to be worthy.

i say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.