“I Make Weak Things Become Strong Unto Them”
My wife and I have four daughters and a girl dog. My family is full of musicians, scholars and various hobbyists. Some talents are shared among two or more, others are quite unique. My family completely amaze me. Even the dog likes to show off her skills by fending off the delivery man, ridding the yard of pests and wild game, and making food disappear behind your back. I have a walking family history database, a walking automobile database and a gamer. I’ve had to work during the pandemic to develop my unique talent to fit in. Guess who entered a mustache growing contest and won? I found out I had a hidden talent! All I had to do was stop shaving – up here.
Moroni, in the last few words of Ether in the Book of Mormon, expressed to the Lord this concern:
“… Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou has NOT [emphasis my own] made us mighty in writing; for thou has made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; …
"wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words” (Ether 12:23,25).
In the spirit of learning, let’s have a quick grammar lesson. Let’s pick apart the word “weakness” or the root-word “weak.” Some definitions that may be used to interpret this passage could be: 1. Lacking in strength: such as deficiency in physical vigor or not able to resist external force or withstand attack. 2. Mental or intellectually deficient; not able to withstand temptation or persuasion. 3. Not able to function properly. 4. Deficient in the usual or required ingredients – the list goes on.
We could probably apply these any of these definitions to this scripture and relate to Moroni. Perhaps Moroni feels that his writing is sloppy or grammatically incorrect or that his words are not strong enough to enter into the hearts of others. We may define our weakness because of temptation; perhaps it lies in the lie of comparing our weakness to others' strengths or just perhaps it means we are lacking in the usual or required ingredients. In any case, human weakness is an essential ingredient in our mortality. In the Book of Mormon we can read the words of Moroni, a man who had strength to be alone when his brethren had been slain and protected the precious contents of the golden plates knowing in a future day it would be published to the world as a second witness of Jesus Christ. This man had strength, yet he even pled with the Lord to change his weakness and the weakness of others in writing. This, not for his sake, but that the Gentiles would not be able to mock at the words which were written.
The Lord’s answer to Moroni was both comforting and assuring. Notice His use of the word “grace.”
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness” (Ether 12:26).
The Lord explains that grace is an essential ingredient in our lives. It really is sufficient and often more than sufficient! We are told that through His grace others shall take no advantage of our weaknesses. Grace flows freely to those that humble themselves and exercise faith. It is grace that is a refining power that changes us and helps us on our way to returning back to the presence of our Savior, and even makes us Christ-like and has saved us from permanent, physical death. We don’t talk enough about grace, and it isn’t the focus of my talk and is a much broader topic than what we have time here to fully discuss.
The Lord goes on in verse 27…
“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” (Ether 12:27).
For my math friends, this builds an equation for a nice slide…
(Recognize the weakness + humble ourselves) which both must be done first, -- order of operations
+ have faith * let grace be applied
weak things become strong. It seems simple.
In case you haven’t noticed, one of my weaknesses is that I tend to cram a lot of information in just a few sentences. I jump from thought to thought, then try to sew everything together. Bear with me, I’m trying to unpack my thoughts and present them the best way I know how. I’m a programmer, not a writer. Another weakness is the speed of my mouth is faster than the speed of my brain and may even trip me up over the course of my talk today.
I have been blessed to spend my college and early adult life in the Salt Lake Temple as an ordinance worker. I became friends with a brother many times my senior who taught me a very special lesson. We often worked on the same shift together and after, had small moments to talk. He asked about my home life, and I inquired of his. Our little chats were a great lesson for a college kid.
On one occasion, he spoke of how he had struggled with a Word of Wisdom problem for much of his life. This had not only been embarrassing enough to keep him away from Church activity and affected the quality of his life later, but he also stood there telling me that he continued to have this weakness. In my moment of weakness, I wondered (a better word would be judged) how someone could ‘struggle’ with this weakness and still work in the temple.
He went on to describe how he could smell this substance out in the world and still wanted it, but that he had made this weak thing become strong. At one point in his life, he humbled himself and stopped the cycle of addiction. He had been away from this bind for a number of years, but was still tempted by it. I quickly asked how it had become a strength. He proceeded to assure me that being able to serve in the temple was a much sweeter experience for him and it was motivation enough. When he faced temptation, the fact that he worked in the Lord’s University was brought to the forefront of his mind. He loved it and didn’t want to risk it. He served diligently and has blessed the lives of those who had already passed beyond the veil and those on this side. I had learned something profound - I had forgotten (or had not yet learned) that weakness and sin are two very different things. This good man had a weakness with the Word of Wisdom but continued to resist the temptation. His testimony was a strength to me, and as I indicated before, a blessing to others. I also learned that weakness isn’t always taken from us completely.
In this weak, mortal life, we are also subject to the weaknesses of others who make faulty decisions and sometimes damage us. Not-so-great experiences as a teenager had warped my ideas of self-worth. I disclose this not to gain empathy, but to teach a point. Weakness in my personality – which requires me to have approval from others – quickly took over, and it moved all of my strengths into the back of the proverbial school bus. How could this be when I had adults and mentors who encouraged me? I had developed talents! I had learned to play the organ, and I was called as the ward organist at 16 (Though I admit I was better as a teenager than I am now – keep practicing…). I sang with and accompanied my school choirs through junior high and high school on the piano. Yet I still perceived myself as inadequate because I didn’t have the strengths of those who were not even my friends. I couldn’t wrap myself around the idea of why kindness wasn’t met with kindness. I began to learn how to cover it up, and it was exhausting. These experiences, insecurities and weaknesses have haunted me through a mission, marriage, college and straight into my career. My parents were there always and gave me plenty of encouragement, but I was too ashamed and uncomfortable talking to them about it, because they would have done something about it. I worried further about retaliation. I wondered how I would go through life without phenomenal athletic skills and the approval of others (who were not my friends), and how I could repent of this inadequacy. I knew of others who had the same weakness but seemed to get along in life just fine. You wouldn’t be able to tell now, but I was a feather-weight. I had to stand twice to cast a shadow and was as uncoordinated as can be.
We experience grief, pain and suffering. We are raised by other weak mortals. We are subject to temptations of he who would destroy us. No doubt that Satan uses our weaknesses against us to beguile us. He is almost as perfectly aware of our weaknesses as we ourselves are. Here is the secret sauce: sin is encouraged by Satan, but we learn from Moroni that weaknesses are ‘given’ to us by God that we may be humble and thus meek. In addition, and as an important side note, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is sign of humility.
The Savior, just like us, was born helpless to imperfect parents. He, the greatest of all creations, fully participated in the condition of mortal weakness. The Savior was subject to temptation from the evil one as well. The scriptures record of the Savior’s fast of 40 days and the increasing amounts of temptation Satan pushed upon Him just prior to his ministry. We learn from this not to equate weakness with temptation. Temptation is not sin!
During the greatest moment in human history, as the Savior of the world whose “suffering caused … God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink,“ experienced weakness and was strengthened by an angel as recorded by Luke. The prophet Joseph Smith goes on to record this revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children men” (D&C 19:18-19). How grateful I am for this greatest of all miracles! I am grateful that during His moment of His mortal weakness and during what surely had been the hardest experience anyone could have endured, plus the grief of His Father who had to stand by and allow this to happen, that an angel ministered unto my Savior. I believe that angels can minister to each of us in our own Gethsemane.
No doubt you have noticed that the words of my talk are printed on the screen. It may even be a little annoying to you which I think is a weakness but not a sin. I am blessed with many friends who are deaf or hard-of-hearing who are watching this today, including an amazingly capable and compassionate wife. It is she who has helped me learn about my personality and helped me along a path of healing. My focus had changed. Our lives are filled with beautiful prayers while keeping our eyes open, giving “talks” with our hands, silently singing, with an advantage of being able to discuss behind closed doors without the risk of children hearing our whispering. My current calling finds me conducting and participating in saving ordinances, all in a color-filled visual language. I’m grateful to have American Sign Language in my life. Again, In the spirit of learning, an ASLSL (ASL as a Second Language) lesson: the English equivalence of this sign would be “give attention to” or “hear.” While to some, it may seem that deafness is a weakness. It is something I definitely do not believe. I worship and serve with strong and caring sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father who “hear” his words. I watch as the gospel is discussed at a blazing speed, and I see help ministered through tremendous amounts of compassion. This great community has shown kindness and love to me and my family. With a dash of sarcasm, I’ve never been devalued because of my lack of athletic skills in this community, but I may have just opened myself up to teasing. Go ahead and toss a basketball to me, I will probably spend 10 minutes trying to figure out where I plug in the USB cable and then give up, which may or may not be weakness.
We can’t repent of our weaknesses. We can make them become strengths through humility. To this day, I am a much better cheerleader than I am an athlete, and that isn’t saying much. Now in the many moons and years later, I can look back on my strength as a “cheerleader” and provide the music for the after party when the game is over. That can be my contribution to the athletic world, and it is enough. In the years since, I’ve learned about forgiveness, I’ve learned about what I perceive as a weakness in my personality, and I have learned that I am capable. Embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ early on, serving a mission, church service – together with the love, approval and encouragement of outstanding friends and family since – has helped me overcome those teen experiences. Has my weakness gone away? Why no. It has not. I still get anxious walking down the halls of my children’s schools, but that weakness has become a strength in how I parent and carefully protect my children. I still search for the approval of others—and being a bishop has taught me a lot about approval. I’m often reminding others that weakness isn’t sin. Temptation isn’t sin. Sin is sin. It’s also obvious to me that we need to be aware of our weaknesses. It’s okay to talk about them to help us be aware of the triggers of our weaknesses to learn how to make them strengths. Listen to those who encourage you.
Don’t let Satan use your weaknesses against you to beguile you and lead you down a path of destruction. He will use the lie that our weaknesses are sinful anyway, so why worry about making it worse? Why resist? Those thoughts can be put in our minds by others as well. Don’t let Satan do it! Don’t let him further beguile you into thinking temptation is sin. Our perfect Savior suffered temptation, yet lived a perfect life.
Our human weakness that can cause both frustration and anguish and, as I’ve shown, can last through our mortal existence. We may have weaknesses that to others are strengths, and we can have weaknesses perceived by others as sin. One person’s weakness may seem tiny compared to our own – or the other way around. Let’s not compare. It’s just not helpful.
What do we do with our weakness, especially when it seems impossible to make strong? Remember our math formula… recognize it, humble ourselves, exercise faith in Jesus Christ to access His grace, keep moving forward and express gratitude as you change.
My friends, I am grateful for a perfect Savior who perfectly loves me and you. I am so grateful for the bigger picture of the gospel which has been revealed through prophets. I am still learning to be thankful for weakness but know that I can be armed with His grace to watch it become a strength. Grace changes our countenance; it makes us into better disciples of Jesus Christ. The gospel is true and it gets bigger and brighter each day we live it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.