General Conference is a wonderful time of learning, joy and re-charging our spiritual batteries.Or not.
Not everyone has such glowing reviews of their Conference experience – some come away with a very different feel. I was reminded of this last week in a Facebook discussion about Conference. One friend wrote:
“FAIL. As much as I love Conference and look forward to it, it reminds me of my report cards in school.
1. Gratitude for all things even in bad times (FAIL)
2. Prayers are answered.(sometimes FAIL…) Seems like I have plenty of “smallish” prayers answered, but the BIG ONES I got nadda.
3. It is the load that makes us strong (FAIL) I just get all pissy if things get too hard.
4. LOVE….yay pass pass pass. I PASSED at something.”
Instead of feeling uplifted, feelings of discouragement and failure rush in.
And it isn’t just General Conference. Many of us emerge from our regular Church meetings feeling like failures. A talk in Sacrament might point out our shortcomings, a lesson in Relief Society might focus on things we are not doing right. A quorum lesson might spend the entire time shining a spotlight on that one weakness we struggle with most.
It happens. We then turn off the TV, or leave the meeting with our heads held. Instead of feeling hopeful and enlightened, we leave with heavy hearts and frustration. Failures.
Here is the problem with that response: General Conference is not an exam. Meetings are not tests. There are no grades attached.
The people speaking to us are not our judges or proctors. In reality, they are more like tutors instructing us to be prepared for the exam, or even a friend passing a cheat sheet under the desk to help us pass the test. They are there to help.
While there is an opportunity for self-evaluation, to which we might come up a bit short, there is no permanent mark on our eternal “Report Card.”
There are occasional “mid-terms” we take in our Church experience. They come in the form of private interviews, usually for Temple Recommends. Those “tests” are administered by those who have been given the task of standing as “Judges in Israel.” Those mid-terms are very real, and the results do count, but they are only temporary results. They are not Final Exams, and we can still improve or decline. That is why we have to repeat the process every two years.
There is no final grade until it is Final. And it is not Final until we are safely dead.
So why do we occasionally feel like failures after being tutored? Is it self-inflicted? Or Spirit- inflicted? And yes, there is a difference.
When our feelings of failure are self-inflicted, we are focusing on what we are doing wrong and feeling embarrassed, guilty or inadequate – usually followed by discouragement or a desire to throw in the towel. (Satan LOVES to rub our noses in this.)
“Lucifer will do all in his power to keep you captive. You are familiar with his strategy. He whispers: ” …You can’t change; you have tried before and failed.” “It’s too late; you’ve gone too far.” Don’t let him discourage you.” (Richard G. Scott)
When our feelings of failure are Spirit-inflicted, they usually come in the form of promptings, guilt or enlightenment. It propels us foreword with purpose and joy. “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.” (D&C 11:13)
That does not preclude the chance that we might first get a little smack upside the head – spiritually speaking- but that’s OK, when it leads to repentance: “Guilt is to our spirit what pain is to our body—a warning of danger and a protection from additional damage.” (David A. Bednar)
The failure is not in our repeated failings. The failure is when we stop trying, and stop repenting.
Even then, as long as we aren’t dead, we can try and turn it around before the Final Exam. (aka, the Final Judgment.)
The Final Judgment will be less of a checklist of grades for each of our subjects in life, but more of an evaluation of what we have become here on earth.
One of the best expressions of this idea comes from Elder Dallin Oaks when he said,
“From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (Link)
It isn’t a checklist.
If we viewed General Conference last week with a “checklist mentality,” a “Spiritual Scorecard” of sorts, and walked away feeling discouraged, then we are simply looking at it wrong.
When the Lord’s servants teach us, they are giving us training, and ideas, as the Spirit offers insights and inspiration that will help us succeed on or Final Exam. Why? They all do it out of love and hope for our success.
President Monson closed out Conference last week with this simple request:
“As we ponder the messages we have heard, may we resolve to do a little better than we have done in the past.” (Link)
That’s really not a very high bar, is it? It doesn’t sound to me like he is calling any of us failures. As long as we are on walking around on this earth, the day we fail is the day we label ourselves “Failures” and stop trying.