Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Can we make discussions about female weakness more empowering?

Since being in Relief Society, I have been continually amazed by the amount of lessons devoted to addressing women's perceived foibles and shortcomings. These lessons usually include a lengthy discussion on why women are so hard on themselves, a reminder of our outer and inner beauty, followed by accolades for how much good we do.

I understand that some women are unfairly hard on themselves and sometimes need this gentle reminder. And while I have written before about the dangers of putting women on pedestals, I recognize that women deserve recognition for what they do.

However, I believe that if we continually couch our discussion about female weaknesses in this fashion, we are missing an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God and better utilize the Atonement in the quotidian areas of our lives.

Let's look at the Book of Mormon's Ether 12:27, the classic scripture for addressing human weakness. Pay attention to the first clause.

 27 And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

My interpretation of this scripture is that the more spiritually mature we are becoming (coming unto God), the more aware we become of our weaknesses. It's simply part of the process. As a neophyte missionary, I remember being continually dissatisfied of my perceived sense of self, until my teacher reminded me that I had probably never been in an environment where I had experienced spiritual growth more rapidly. Of course, I was going to have some frustration with my shortcomings. But it doesn't have to end at this step.

We need to acknowledge that perceiving our own weaknesses, rather than being readily dismissed, is crucial to obtaining spiritual growth. They serve as a gentle reminder that we can exercise a greater dependence with God the Father and His Son. Perhaps we are more judgmental of others or more brash in our language than we should be. Whatever our weaknesses are, God's hand is "stretched out still," ready to help us.

Acknowledging and working to overcome our weaknesses is part of utilizing the Atonement on a daily basis. We can pray for the capacity to forgive a family member, to be more friendly, to better understand the scriptures, etc. etc. The list is infinite. It is little wonder that God was known as the great alchemist in early Western literature: he is anxious to help us transform the unrefined metals of our shortcomings to a golden substance that is beautiful and useful.

Yes, Relief Society women are beautiful and amazing. But relying on these platitudes when discussing our weaknesses will undermine our remarkable capacity for spiritual progress. In the words of Lucy Mack Smith, we are capable of doing "something extraordinary."

Photo by More Good Foundation.

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