Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Divine Nature and Individual Worth

Ok, so I feel like I'm cheating a little by posting this and not having written anything, but I recently wrote this paper for my class. It's a little long, so I won't be offended if you don't want to read it all. Or any of it for that matter, I just liked what I had written.

The Sunday following my 12th birthday was quite exciting for me. I was finally old enough to enter the Young Women’s program. On my first day, I was presented with seven different colored flowers. Each flower represented a different Young Women’s value. As I became more intimately involved in the program, I soon had the Young Women’s theme memorized. Although each value is important in its own sense, there are two that are immanently placed in our lives, but that are often misconstrued by what the world thinks they should mean.
As children of our Father in Heaven, we are endowed with two very special gifts. In fact, these two gifts are inherently ours, regardless of our actions here on earth. Because of two very important ideas, each person is innately endowed with divine nature and individual worth. Although I had memorized the oft-repeated Young Women’s theme, I never really took the time to break down what I had so monotonously repeated for so long. However, within the first sentence of the theme, these two important ideas are presented.
The theme begins “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us…” (Young Women Theme 1) This clause alone shares these two very important ideas. The first is that we are directly related to a heavenly being. Not only are we related to this being, but we are daughters of this heavenly being, who is indeed our Father. The second essential idea in this line is that this heavenly being, or Heavenly Father, loves us. The combination of these two essential ideas equates to each person having divine nature and individual worth. Being children of a god automatically gives each of us an inherent quality of divinity, and being loved by that god gives us the reality of our own worth. If one of these two ideas were missing, we could not have both of these qualities inherently within us.
This idea of each individuals divine nature is further emphasized by the quote in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” which reads, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny” (1). This quote expresses that having a divine nature and destiny is not a matter of choice, but rather that it is an inherent quality. One may act in a manner that is completely opposite of one who recognizes their divine nature, but since it is an innate characteristic about us it can never be lost. It is similar to our eye color. We may try and hide its true color with color contacts, but underneath it all, we will always have the eye color we were born with.
Individual worth, though related, takes on another matter completely. The media would have us believe that we ought to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and be a certain way to have any worth about us. The ability of a woman to look ideal has replaced important but seemingly ‘old-fashioned’ values of her morality, spirituality, and generosity to determine her worth (“Beauty …” 1). It has gotten to a point where women willingly sacrifice their health in order to fill a superficial, yet bottomless hole of worth that can never be filled (“Beauty …” 2). Growing up in this era did not make understanding my own individual worth any easier. For a long time, I compared myself to others. I strived for perfection, not only in the way I looked, but in my academia as well. I didn’t want to look bad in front of anyone and have that person think less of me. At this time, I didn’t fully understand the concept of individual worth and how it is unchanging. I, like many others my age, could only see my worth as the world did.
As I grew older, my self-perception did change for the better, but I still never really understood the full meaning of individual worth. When I read the chapter, “The Divine Nature of Each Individual” from Strengthening Our Families, I had a very personal, yet very distinct revelation. No matter what I did, my worth would never change. Regardless of the mistakes I made, the people I hurt, and sins I had committed, my worth was absolute in the eyes of the Lord (Lockhart et al 222). On top of the absoluteness of my own worth, was the absolute worth of every person around me; whether I loved them or hated them; whether they were incredibly kind or awfully mean, nothing they could do would change their worth to the Lord (Lockhart et al 221). This was a stunning revelation to me. Of course I had heard over and over again that I was a child of God as were those around me, but I never fully understood how worth played into that until now.
The key difference I was missing here was that my worth was not synonymous with my worthiness. Because I did not have a clear understanding of the crucial difference between the two, I could not understand that our worthiness can fluctuate depending on our actions, whereas our worth does not and will not ever change (Lockhart et al 221-2). The idea that “worthiness does not determine worth” rings true for every single person that lives and ever has lived in this life (Lockhart et al 221-2). This distinction is vital because our perception of our worth affects our worthiness (Lockhart et al 222). Scholars Barbara Lockhart and Shirley Cox have this to say about how our worthiness can be affected by our perceived worth.

If we feel that we are ‘no good’ or ‘worthless,’ and that Heavenly Father couldn’t possibly love us, the tendency is to give up or to do things that affect our worthiness. If we have a testimony of our worth, when we make a mistake we want to repent. We are able to distinguish between who we are and what we do…We can love the sinner – ourselves – but not the sin. (222)

In this quote, they explain that when we have a negative opinion of ourselves and cannot see how God can possibly love us, we tend to give up on important things, such as faithfully attending church or living the principles of the gospel. They continue by saying that we can love ourselves in our fallen state, but not to get caught up in the fallen state. When we choose to repent rather than give up, we are able to recognize our worth and in turn, recognize how important it is for our worthiness.
Another important principle based on both our individual worth and divine nature is that we can be justified in having a good self-esteem. Elder Maxwell taught that self esteem controls our ability to love God, love others, and love the life we have been given (Lockhart et al 222). He continues by saying “Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven.” When we cannot love ourselves, how can our love for one another grow? Conversely, when we have feelings of self-loathing, how are we love another, and in turn, how does that separate us from Satan? We cannot be separated from Satan if we are having feelings of self-contempt.
This is something that may be difficult to grasp. Everyone has days where they just feel down about themselves. However, if we allow ourselves to dwell on our shortcomings, we will lose sight of our true worth, just as Satan did. Instead of repenting, he decided to be prideful and turn his back on Heavenly Father, which led to grave and everlasting consequences. Although no matter what, we will be in a better state than Satan merely because we are blessed with a mortal body, he does have the ability to let ourselves think so little of ourselves that we lose our sense of worth and divinity.
Unfortunately, Satan has become very skilled in this technique of self-loathing. It often comes in the form of depression, and he persuades us that we are of no worth. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression” (Benson 1). It is at these times that we tend to forget our worth and divine nature, and instead turn to trying to fulfill and please those of the world. President Benson then counsels Latter-day Saints to be patient and optimistic and remember that “the Lord shall have power over his saints” (D&C 1:35). His counsel continues with several ways in which we can leave this path of despair, but all of them involve a concerted and consistent effort. When we are feeling this way, the only way to return to feeling the way our Father in Heaven wants us to feel is by doing this constant work to make the changes.
One of the greatest ways we can recognize our own individual worth and divine nature is finding such qualities in those around us. There are several ways to go about doing this, but one of the greatest is through service (Benson 2). Actions as small as giving a specific compliment about a friend or getting to know a new person will not only greatly improve their sense of self-worth, but it will also improve your own. When we can recognize the worth of souls in others, we are able to see others the way God sees all of His children (Benson 2).
Another way in which we can recognize the worth of our own soul and our divinity is explained by Elder Maxwell. Here, he teaches the importance of losing oneself:

Losing oneself means losing concern over getting credit; by knowing our true identity we need not be concerned over seeming anonymity…Losing oneself means yielding the substance of one’s own agendum if it does not match the agendum of the Lord. (Lockhart et al 221)

By this, Elder Maxwell tries to illustrate that often our desire for recognition for the acts of service we perform is unnecessary. If we understand our own individuality, we should not concern ourselves with getting credit. He also makes clear the idea that we must be willing to drop our own desires to fulfill the desires of the Lord. By doing this, we can have a greater sense of our own individual worth because we won’t feel the need to gratify our worth with credit and we will be able to draw closer unto the Savior by following the path that He would have us follow.
One final way we can recognize our diving nature is by having an understanding of why we were sent her. President James E. Faust said this about our divine nature and our purpose on this earth:

A conviction that you are a [child] of God gives you a feeling of comfort in your self-worth. It means that you can find strength in the balm of Christ. It will help you meet the heartaches and challenges with faith and serenity. … [One] must feel that [they] can do something for someone else that no one else ever born can do. (“Visiting Teaching Message…” 1)

In this, President Faust recognizes and expresses his belief that each person was sent to earth for a specific reason – to do something no one else could do. When we don’t recognize this, we miss out on opportunities we have to bless others and in turn receive blessings for ourselves.
In a culture where so many strive for perfection, with so few attaining it, it is easy to see why many get lost in the idea of what true self-worth is. Because they do not realize their true individual worth, they cannot recognize their divine nature either. When people lack the knowledge and understanding of these two essential characteristics, it becomes easy to slip into a routine of depression, anxiety, and fear – all of which are tools used by Satan to draw us even further from our Heavenly Father (Perkins 1). When we lose ourselves in the will of the Lord, we can start to come back to Him and be worthy to be in His presence.
Faith; divine nature; individual worth; knowledge; choice and accountability; good works; integrity; virtue – all of these values are important and necessary in their own sense. However, only two are instilled within us – divine nature and individual worth. They are also the only two that can never change, regardless of what we do, say, think, or feel. It is always possible for us to lose sight of our true divinity and worth, but the Lord never will. Even though the world may see us as plain or not of great worth, our actual worth will not be affected by this view. Unfortunately, it can affect our worthiness because it leads to incorrect conceptions about ourselves, which leads to adopting an attitude of worthlessness for ourselves. Because of the opportunity I’ve had to read and come to better understand the individual worth and divine nature of each soul, both my testimony and my capacity to love others have grown tremendously. Because I know that my worth is absolute in the eyes of the Lord, I can help others see their worth and divinity.

1 comment:

Lesleigh said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I have been trying to decide which direction to go in a lesson I'm teaching in young women. I have been struggling for weeks with which way to go. I happened upon your blog and just have this feeling that this is my direction. You were so wonderful in capturing everything that the young girls I teach need to hear. And I needed to be reminded of it too.
Thank you so much for your beautiful words.