As I was reading my textbook this afternoon, preparing for an History of Psychology midterm this week, I came across a segment in the section about St. Augustine which made me think.
Augustine was beginning to realize that he was a “wretched young man,” and he prayed to God, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” His explanation to God for such a prayer was, “I feared lest Thou shouldest hear me too soon, and soon cure me of the disease of [lust], which I wished to have satisfied rather than extinguished.Hergenhahn, 80
I was at first shocked by this, and then deeply concerned. My judgment of St. Augustine was not as harsh as the disappointment that I felt in myself for being able to relate to his feelings. The Bible Dictionary teaches that “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” and that “[t]he object of prayer is not to change the will of God.” Though I know this principle in my heart, and have a testimony of its truthfulness and power, I often find myself only half-sincere in prayers for help in overcoming weakness. Part of me genuinely desires to be free from “the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4:18), and yet another part of me wishes that, in some way, the law could be altered so that I could escape the consequences of those choices, without abandoning the behavior. I live, as Neal A. Maxwell once described, desiring to “have [my] primary residence in Zion, but [still hoping] to keep a summer cottage in Babylon” (qtd. by Jeffrey R. Holland, 2009). This is a condition which has brought me great concern.
In the April 2011 General Conference, Dallin H. Oaks gave a remarkable talk called “Desire.” In it, he asserted, “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.” When we ask the Lord for help in overcoming our weaknesses, is our desire truly in line with that request? Without a sincere desire to be more like Christ, we will never have the strength to fully “shake off the chains of him that would bind [us]” (2 Nephi 9:45).
Why, then, should we even attempt such an endeavor? If it is so close to impossible, how can it possibly be worth the effort? Why should we put ourselves through so much pain and expend so much energy to purge ourselves of sin and purify our souls? Amulek explains this in Alma 34:34.
Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated similarly:
[W]hat we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.
This is a motivating statement for me. I know that I am an imperfect being, with countless flaws and weaknesses beyond measure. However, I know that if I desire to be more, if I strive to make correct choices, to learn and apply correct doctrine, and to follow Christ, He will help me to become more than I currently am. It is not a passive improvement, but an active endeavor that begins with a desire to change.
Elder Oaks takes this even further, saying:
As important as it is to lose every desire for sin, eternal life requires more. To achieve our eternal destiny, we will desire and work for the qualities required to become an eternal being.
Where do we find such a powerful desire? Elder Oaks claims that “when we have a vision of what we can become, our desire and our power to act increase enormously….If our righteous desires are sufficiently intense, they will motivate us to cut and carve ourselves free from addictions and other sinful pressures and priorities that prevent our eternal progress.”
I pray that as I continue to learn and grow and develop “a vision of what [I] can become,” I will find the strength and desire to overcome those weaknesses and bad habits which are currently inhibiting my progression. I know that as I strive to overcome, Christ will compensate for my imperfection, and enable me to reach the potential that He sees within me.