What difference has it made, that I know I’m a child of God? Why does it even matter?
It has meant that I could square my shoulders and keep the commandments the best way I knew how, even when it was unpopular or unprofitable, that I could refuse to fight back, choosing peace instead of contention. It’s meant that I could face a new day after having made a humiliating mistake, and that I could change and begin anew. It has meant that I could retreat to my closet, my bathroom, or my car, and find Someone who knew me, knew my situation, and knew how to help me move forward. It has meant that I could forgive.
In all of these ways, knowing my divine identity and my inherent and infinite worth has helped me to make powerful choices. Like choosing to act, rather than merely reacting. Like choosing to face my own life, daunting and shadowy as it has often been, with faith and purpose. But sometimes I forget this basic truth, my own identity, I withdraw from my Father, and I feel a kind of echoing hollow feeling inside, like something is missing.
Being a child of God is our common denominator: it is our elemental force. But acting like a child of God, trusting in Him and living up to our potential, can sometimes be difficult. When I was in college, I was a Resident Assistant. One day a couple of my girls came to me and with great affection said, “Becca, let us help you. You have such potential.” And I guess the thing kind of turned into a little dorm mom makeover, complete with tweezed eyebrows and a new hairdo. It was really sweet of them, but I remember bristling a little, because to be told that you have “potential” can be . . .well, a bit disheartening. I didn’t want to be told I had potential. I wanted to be respected, admired and loved. I wanted to already be beautiful!
Sometimes we question our inherent and infinite worth because we are in the middle of a mortal makeover, if you will. We understand that we are “literally spirit [children] of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny,” but we doubt ourselves. We make mistakes. Change is required in order to reach our full potential, so we can convince ourselves that we aren’t really all that great to begin with. We think that we are measured by what we lack. But this is the furthest from the truth.
God loves us – as we are – because we are His children. As Rabbi Sacks states: “To know the mind of God we do not need theoretical physics. We simply need to know what it is to be a parent.” As we come to know Him, and trust Him, not as an obscure, remote God in Heaven, but as our Father, the One who “give[s] good things” (Matt. 7:11), the One who “first loved us” (1 John 4:19), we will come to better understand ourselves.
Our Father loves us as we are. But He also wants us to improve, to expand, to enjoy the “enlargement” of our souls. Our spiritual genesis, much like our physical genetics, includes a pattern for eternal growth and progress. Our Father’s expectation that we grow in light and knowledge in this life is an indication of how much He values us and our future.
This becomes clear as we experience the gift of Redemption through the Atonement. Christ’s offering shows not only that we are worth saving, but that we have a worthwhile future. He recognizes our worth even when we are blind to it. Indeed, all of His efforts are to bring us to our fullness, the complete measure of our worth. He calls us upward to Him not to discourage us or judge us, but so that our inherent capacity for greatness can be realized. In the words of Emily Dickinson:
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.
The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.
If we do not turn to Him, we often strive to find worth from the world’s methodology of value. We believe, because it appears true from all physical evidence, that our worth comes only when in comparison to the worth of another. We think we aren’t good enough unless we are better than somebody else. And those who are better than us must surely be more valuable, more worthwhile, more worthy . . . just, better, right?
If we believe that God looks upon us with judgment, disapproval and scorn – that He is a superior, patronizing, “hard” master, picking favorites among us – then we will act defensively, fearfully. We will view even the supernal gift of the Atonement as a backhanded way to condemn us. We will continue to belittle others so that we feel better about ourselves. We will persist in giving up because we know we’re just not good enough, so why try anyway. We will resist rising to our potential, resenting the commandments and the requirements of progress.
But God’s plan is not about competition, it’s about overcoming our natural urge to pit ourselves against God and others. The Atonement provides the one standardized unit of heavenly measurement to value the worth of a soul, and it’s equal for all: Christ’s very own life. Despite our varying talents and abilities, we are on equal ground before the Lord. It’s spiritually degrading to try to prove our worth superficially, particularly when it robs us of love. Our confidence will erode over time. Instead of making us feel better, we will lose ourselves a little each day.
It is my belief that we will never feel the true measure of our worth until we validate the worth of those around us. As we serve others, we find purpose and feel worthwhile. As we handle our own insecurities by loving others rather than judging them, we are elevated. As we confront the injuries done to us by others with compassion, then we finally realize our own godlike capacity. In acting like God, we come onto God’s ground. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s miraculously, wonderfully true. Love, as a gift from God, enters into our hearts for another human being, another child of God, and we become secure in God’s love for us. Perhaps that’s why there are only two great commandments (and not a third imperative to love ourselves) – the two are all we need.
In coming to God, we come to ourselves. We have a kind of clear-sighted self-awareness, of standing on true ground before a real God, who sees us and loves us. We no longer hide from Him nor strive against Him and so experience a peace that “passeth all understanding.” We seek His face in the countenances of those around us. We are kinder, gentler, and more apt to navigate the rough spots of our mutual humanity with compassion. We steadily, humbly radiate strength and certainty because we know “in whom [we] have trusted.”
Sheri Dew says: “There is a direct relationship between our personal experience with the Lord and how we see ourselves. The closer we grow to him, the more clear and complete becomes our vision of who we are, who we have always been, and who we may become.” When we finally see His face, we will know Him as He has always known us. We will be able to come before Him with confidence precisely because we had confidence in Him.
Becca is a contributing author for the Grow Your Faith column of The Small Seed. She can be found any night of the year satiating her addiction to buttered popcorn, she can be recognized by her Lego-induced limp on one side, and, according to knowing sources at the grocery store, she “has her hands full, bless her heart.” Rather than add more to her life, she is trying to keep up what she is already doing, just with more faith and devotion to her Savior Jesus Christ, so it can be said of her, “she hath done what she could.”