It’s a curious thing in relationships of give-and-take, that the further away a receiver is from their benefactor the more entitled they tend to feel.
This is an observation that Wilford W. Anderson shared with Dale G. Renlund as he strived to help families living in poverty in Africa, but it is applicable to so many situations regardless of global location and financial status. We see the effects of entitlement every day. So many feel they are owed their due, whether from the government, family, educators, employers– and even God.
How does spiritual entitlement occur? And how can we free ourselves from it’s soul-stifling shackles?
We believe that God is good. That God is love. So when difficult things come into our life, sometimes our gut reaction is to ask why.
Why me? Why now? Why this?
We shake our fists at heaven and demand a reason for the perceived injustice. I know. I’ve been there.
But I’ve also noted the same observation that Elder Anderson described. The closer I am in my personal relationship with God, the less inclined I am to whine and grumble when the hard times come. Rather, I am more inclined to be still and listen.
When the storms of life come knocking, rather than lashing out in anger we can hit our knees instead. We can ask what we are to learn from the situation rather than bemoan the personal offense we are experiencing.
Using an example from the Book of Mormon, Elder Renlund expounds on the characteristics of the ancient American prophet Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel:
Because they were distant from the Savior, Laman and Lemuel murmured, became contentious, and were faithless. They felt that life was unfair and that they were entitled to God’s grace. In contrast, because he had drawn close to God, Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ. Though absolutely innocent, the Savior would suffer the most.
The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him.
One of the things I have learned through my own personal trials is that even when life seems at its bleakest, there is always a greater blessing waiting on the other side. It has been said that only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into triumph, a victim into a victory. Indeed, He will bring us beauty for ashes. Our Savior descended below all things that we might have life eternal. Through our own struggles we can choose to grow closer to or away from Him.
Elder Renlund gives the following insights, illustrated by a powerful personal story of a dear friend:
To draw closer to the Savior, we must increase our faith in Him, make and keep covenants, and have the Holy Ghost with us. We must also act in faith, responding to the spiritual direction we receive. All of these elements come together in the sacrament. Indeed, the best way I know of to draw closer to God is to prepare conscientiously and partake worthily of the sacrament each week.
A friend of ours in South Africa shared how she came to this realization. When Diane was a new convert, she attended a branch outside of Johannesburg. One Sunday, as she sat in the congregation, the layout of the chapel made it so that the deacon did not see her as the sacrament was passed. Diane was disappointed but said nothing. Another member noted the omission and mentioned it to the branch president after the meeting. As Sunday School began, Diane was invited to an empty classroom.
A priesthood holder came in. He knelt down, blessed some bread, and handed her a piece. She ate it. He knelt down again and blessed some water and handed her a small cup. She drank it. Thereafter, Diane had two thoughts in rapid succession: First, “Oh, he [the priesthood holder] did this just for me.” And then, “Oh, He [the Savior] did this just for me.” Diane felt Heavenly Father’s love.
Her realization that the Savior’s sacrifice was just for her helped her feel close to Him and fueled an overwhelming desire to keep that feeling in her heart, not just on Sunday but every day. She realized that although she sat in a congregation to partake of the sacrament, the covenants she made anew each Sunday were individually hers. The sacrament helped—and continues to help—Diane feel the power of godly love, recognize the Lord’s hand in her life, and draw closer to the Savior.
For several years now, I have grown in my understanding and appreciation for the sacrament. While in high school I had an early morning seminary teacher teach us to look deeper and find greater meaning in our sacramental worship. He led us in the scriptures to 3 Nephi 18:1-10, where the Savior institutes the administration of the sacrament among the Nephites. The verses record that the people did not just partake of the sacrament, but rather that they did partake and were filled.
Those three words: and were filled are repeated several times in that short section of scripture. I have pondered on the meaning of them over and over.
When was the last time you were filled upon partaking of the sacrament?
Diane’s experience speaks to how personal and soul-sustaining the sacrament can be for each of us, if we choose to engage in pure, vulnerable worship. When we rid ourselves of the masks, the posturing, the entitlement, and simply kneel before our Savior and lay it all on His altar– truly the sacrament takes on new, life-altering meaning.
The sacrament truly helps us know our Savior. It also reminds us of His innocent suffering. If life were truly fair, you and I would never be resurrected; you and I would never be able to stand clean before God. In this respect, I am grateful that life is not fair.
At the same time, I can emphatically state that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness. “All that is unfair about life can be made right.” Our present circumstances may not change, but through God’s compassion, kindness, and love, we will all receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for. We are promised that “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
As we draw near to our Savior, our natural tendency to whine and complain dissipates. Our awe and determination to serve Him and genuinely love those around us increases. We understand that this life is a journey and an education. In the story of our lives, we cannot expect a life free of hardship. Such a story would be utterly devoid of plot as well as any character development to speak of.
In his concluding testimony, Elder Renlund states:
As we draw closer to God, the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ will come into our lives. And, as with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we will find that the Savior has been nearby all along.
I know this to be true. In those moments when I have been able to release ego and pride from my heart, I have felt a tangible witness of not only my Savior’s unconditional love, but also of His unfailing efforts to succor me through all times of doubt and darkness.
He is with us. Through joy and jubilation; through trial and tribulation.
He is with us, always.
Thanks for joining us for General Conference Book Club today!
What spiritual entitlement stumbling blocks might you begin to clear from your life?
How will you approach your sacramental worship differently this coming Sunday?
Next Sunday we’ll review “Standing with the Leaders of the Church” by Ronald A. Rasband. Come and join the conversation!
New to General Conference Book Club? Check out the details here.