This generation, like many before, is obsessed with claiming self, but what is “self”? How do you know what is you and what is flotsam and jetsam? I see three strands braided together within myself: my true eternal self, God’s will for me, and my sinful natural woman (Mosiah 3:19, 1 Cor 2:14). Life is a process of removing the sinful natural woman and intertwining God’s will with my true eternal self.
Too often in the past I’ve mistakenly assumed that parts of my true eternal self were sinful nature. Sinful nature is a prideful thread running through my life, contributing to feelings of entitlement, usually showing up in the form of rebellion. God’s will for me pulls my true self out of the tangled knots with the natural woman, or helps me avoid getting into those knots at all.
How do I know if what I choose is true self or sinful nature? By experience. This is where I have cowered for much of my life. In fear of seeing my sinful nature I have avoided finding my true self. My true self has been left lonely in a corner while I cling to God’s will and fight with my sinful nature. These two make an incomplete weaving. I can never bind my true eternal self to God without using who I am in this life: making choices, disagreeing at times, being different, taking risks, being anxiously engaged. I will never know who I am without using who I am.
I am a stranger to myself in so many ways. I ponder what God’s plan does to help me find my true self. It feels as though God exposes us to as much varied experience as possible, including experiences we would never willingly choose, and working through life with those closest to us, our families. Those people bound to us through covenants have different desires, talents, and preferences from us which create resistance against our temptation to be overly focused on self, encouraging us to be compassionate and balanced in sorting out who we are.
If I’m not able to recognize the sinful woman as different from my true self, I may not pull out her thread, and I sin. This is where my true self feels like shrinking back even more, I get confused, am I sinful or eternal?
“It can be discouraging at times to know what it means to be a son [or daughter] of God and yet come up short. The adversary likes to take advantage of these feelings. Satan would rather that you define yourself by your sins instead of your divine potential.”
– Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
This is how I come to know myself. Keeping in mind that I am a child of God and created for eternal glory; I let my true self go free, free to disagree, free to make mistakes, free to discover, free to apologize, free to forgive, free to set personal boundaries, free to enjoy life, and free to let the sinful woman go.
We are all familiar with the parable of the talents. Think of those talents as each person’s true self. Each has something different and then chooses to do diverse things with what they have been given. Who was the Lord not pleased with? The one who did nothing, who buried their true self out of fear. I ask myself when I am afraid to make a choice, where is the true you, and what does she want to do? If that desire is not oppositional to the commandments, I should follow it and find another piece of who I am, collecting talents along the way. This is what being anxiously engaged means to me.
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. D&C 58:26-27
Making choices is what this life is about and I believe that a large benefit of that is wisdom; to know the truth in ourselves and the world around us. We can’t know the world, without first knowing ourselves, what is self, what is sinful, what is God, and what is the world.
Making choices and gaining wisdom is what Christ died for. He wanted us to experience life, to make choices as our true selves even if that meant that sometimes the sinful natural person inside of us would make the choice instead.
Elder Uchtdorf expresses this well:
While the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.
“It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.
“The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Because of that choice made on behalf of all mankind we are privileged to have this mortal experience. Like our first parents, I gain a knowledge of good and evil by experience, there is no other way for me to truly know it. To have those experiences that give me an eternal education I must make independent choices, within a gospel framework, without fear because the Savior provides the way. Those choices are as endless as eternity.
“Inasmuch as your efforts were honest efforts, and inasmuch as your desires were founded in righteousness, the experience you obtain while pursuing your hearts’ desires must necessarily be profitable to you, and even your mistakes, if mistakes you make, will be turned to your advantage.” –Lorenzo Snow
While on the surface the world’s urging to focus on self might seem like selfishness, there is a piece of truth there. When I make choices based on my desires I learn who I am and gain wisdom. This enables me to separate the three threads of the natural sinful woman, God’s will for me, and myself. As the weak and sinful thread is removed I am more tightly bound to God. That is when I will truly find myself.