09 February 2014

Step 6 - Change of Heart


"This is not a do-it-ourselves program.  We are not abdicating self-responsibility, but we are learning to trust God, trust the process, and trust ourselves.  When it is time to change, we will become changed.  We will receive the power, help, and ability to do that.  For now, our part is becoming ready to let go." 
- Melody Beattie


My dad majored in English in college.  He was a high ranking officer in the grammar police force.  As kids he would pay us a quarter if we used an impressive vocabulary word in appropriate context.  In junior high and high school I would take my essays to him for proof-reading.  He would pull out his red pen and go to town, making all kinds of marks and corrections and questions.  I would walk away and look at my paper, all messy and chaotic and feel so discouraged.  I wrote like a 14 year old, and not a bad one, but I felt like he expected college level academics from me.  I would make the corrections and take it back to him and he would mark it up again.  He didn’t mean to, but he was creating a perfectionist.  A belief gradually settled into my soul, that I could always do better.  I don’t mean a belief in the moral sense of the word, but rather an idea that takes hold in us.  Not all beliefs are noble, in fact many are lies.  Eventually I quit asking my dad to proof-read my papers. 

In the meantime I came to view God like my dad.  Each time I came to him, I was always met with the response “You can do better.  You can always do better.” When I went to church I would come home feeling like that messy, marked-up essay.  Work on this, develop that more, improve here, work harder there.  This left me feeling discouraged in my heart, but motivated in my head.  I WILL improve. I WILL work harder. DO more. 

So I always resented it when people told me I was doing my best.  That’s a lie, I would think. I can always do better.  Which is true, right? I COULD be a little more patient with my kids.  I SHOULD spend less time on social media.  I OUGHT to be more kind and compassionate.  It was all on me.  DO more.  So I would.  If criticism was my vice, I gave it up for lent.  Anything that kept me from reaching my potential became a self-improvement project.

When I began step 6 someone in my group suggested this talk/article.  From the minute I heard the following question I knew I was going to learn something life changing. 

“I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

Step 6 is all about grace.  But perfectionists don’t buy into grace.  I will fix it. I will fix ME.  I will DO whatever it takes until I am polished and perfect.   

But the truth, the REAL belief, is that I AM a rough draft.  And I am still enough. 

My weaknesses are many and my Step 4/5 brought a painful awareness of my shortcomings.  But it was time to back off the DOING.  It was a new heart I wanted, not just a set of new behaviors.  

"When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed.  The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." 
- Thomas S. Monson


  1. I relate SO much to the way you describe yourself here.

  2. Thank you. You have found perfection in this post in the way that it speaks to me.

  3. This was amazing. This really reminds me of my husband and how he's always been hard on himself. Interestingly too, one of his biggest discoveries in therapy was how much he viewed God, and how that relationship was mirrored on his relationship with his own Dad. And how that wasn't serving him or bringing him closer to God. Anyway, my comment was kinda all over the place -- just wanted to say. well written and powerful insights my friend. Hugs! Hilary

  4. does this mean that "I can always do better" is false? because it doesn't sound false....

    1. That's a really good question Amy. Here's the best I can do at an answer. "I can always do better" isn't false. But I think instead of receiving grace WHEN I do better, it's AS I do better. Semantics? I don't have to WORK harder to be entitled to grace, it's always there helping me. I can always do better, with grace. I guess the difference is that my worth isn't dependent on my DOING. I think sometimes in LDS culture we put so much emphasis on "works" just to make a point. We aren't saved by grace alone. But we aren't saved by works alone either. Our works are a demonstration to God that we appreciate his grace. But no matter how hard I work, I'll never feel God's peace if I don't surrender my frailties and shortcomings to him. I know this sounds like a lot of religious rhetoric but I believe in it. Grace frees me from incapacitating feelings of inadequacy. Even if I don't DO enough, I still AM enough. My heart will change when God helps it to change, not when I reach some arbitrary level of effort. I think I'm talking in circles but here is a good quote from Step 6.

      "Too many of us dwell on our weaknesses, temptations and shortcomings...Occasionally, for well-motivated and highly devoted Latter-day Saints, confusion occurs about the differences between worthiness and perfection. Worthiness and perfection don't mean the same thing! All of us are 'works in process.' We can be worthy while still needing improvement." - Cecil O. Samuelson