Like almost everyone, I’ve often struggled with the thought, “Am I good enough?” Deep down, the wiser part of me has always known that this thought is counterproductive, but until recently I couldn’t articulate why. On my mission, I recognized I had a case of “toxic perfectionism.” Yet somehow I couldn’t let go of my need to try to be “good enough.” Why? Because without it, I didn’t know how to stay motivated to improve. I feared if I gave myself permission to not be “good enough” then I would become passive and apathetic.
Before I listen to the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I always write down a list of personal questions. As the Saturday morning session of this past conference was about to begin, one of the last questions I wrote down was, “What is the remedy for not feeling ‘good enough’?”
Imagine my delight when, in that very session, Elder Holland introduced the subject of his talk by saying, “Around the church I’ve heard this issue: ‘I’m just not good enough.’” He explained that he has heard this from adults, teenagers, new converts, and life-long members alike. For the remainder of his talk, he eloquently explained how we can strive to improve without demolishing our self-esteem. I listened intently and tried to wrap my mind around what he was saying, but somehow his explanation was still more complex than I had hoped for.
Then Elder Holland said, “Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven. We won’t earn it.”
When he said those words, the one word that became burned into my mind was “receive.” I felt sure that the key to improvement without self-deprecation lay in understanding what it means to “receive.”
So for my scripture study the next day, I looked up all the scriptures that contain the word “receive.” As I did so, I was struck not by what the scriptures said but by what they didn’t say.
1 Corinthians 2:14—“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” Notice it does NOT say, “The natural man is not good enough to be given the things of the Spirit, for he is too foolish to have them.”
Alma 5:14—“Have ye received [Christ’s] image in your countenances?” Notice it does NOT say, “Have ye been good enough to have his image in your countenances?”
Alma 12:10—“He that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word.” Notice it does NOT say “He who hardens his heart isn’t good enough to be given the greater portion of the word.”
In 3 Nephi 9:16 Christ says, “I came unto my own, and my own received me not.” Notice he does NOT say, “I came unto my own, and my own weren’t good enough for me.”
This verse was the clincher for me: D&C 88:32—-“They shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.” Notice it does NOT say, “They shall return to their own place to be given that which they earned, because they were not good enough to be given that which they might had earned.”
The topical guide lists over a hundred references to scriptures containing the word “receive,” and they all follow this same trend.
After all of this, the conclusion I came to was, “The question of being good enough is irrelevant. Why? Because nothing depends on my being good enough—nothing even depends on my becoming good enough. NOTHING! Everything is a gift. Should I still strive to improve? Yes. Why? Because the one thing I need to improve is my ability to receive.”
In D&C 132:29 we learn that “Abraham received all things.” What was Abraham’s secret?
D&C 111:11—“I will order all things for your good, as fast as ye are able to receive them.” What makes one person faster at receiving than another person?
Here’s a list to give you some ideas.
Requirements to Receive
- Make Room for It
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of having a pony, and one day someone gives you a pony. Can you receive it? Not if your property isn’t zoned for horses! Similarly, suppose you want more friends, but you haven’t made room in your heart to love those friends even if God placed them in your life.
2. Want It
Think of a time when a friend who truly cared about you bought you a birthday gift. Do you think your friend worried about whether you were good enough for that gift? Of course not! But what your friend did worry about was whether the gift was something you actually wanted. A true friend is observant enough to know exactly what you want. Even if a friend had the means to give you a pony, they wouldn’t give it to you unless they knew you wanted it.
3. Ask for It.
Asking for a gift shows not just that you really want it but that you’re humble enough to stop trying to get it all on your own. It shows you’re willing to receive it and you won’t reject it out of pride.
4. Give Up Preoccupation or Contentment with the Fake Equivalent
This is similar to making room for a gift, but in this case you already have the room for it but the room is already occupied. One of my favorite stories is about a little girl who had a plastic pearl necklace which she loved and which she never took off for anything. Her father asked her one day if she loved him enough to give him her plastic pearl necklace. Initially she said no. But one day she finally came to her father and handed him her plastic pearl necklace. He put it in his pocket, and then from the other pocket he pulled out a REAL pearl necklace and put it around her neck.
5. Be in the Place where It Can Be Given
To put it bluntly, if you want the presents then it would be a good idea to show up to your own birthday party. Sometimes we ask God a question, and God inspires a friend or a speaker to give us the answer to that question in a conversation or a talk. But if we don’t spend time with that friend or if we sleep in and don’t go to church the day that the talk is given, we miss out on the chance to receive.
6. Accept It, Despite Awareness of Unworthiness
Being preoccupied with being “good enough” can be an obstacle to receiving. God may be trying to give us something, but we unconsciously block it because we feel we don’t deserve it. But if God’s love and Christ’s Atonement aren’t enough to make us feel “good enough” to receive divine gifts, then nothing else ever will, not ever our own achievements. As a character said in the movie Cool Runnings, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.
7. Know What to Do with It
Back to the pony example, what if you do have a place to keep the pony but you don’t know how to ride a pony, how to feed a pony, how to groom a pony, how to train a pony, etc. This is one of the main reasons God gives us commandments. All of the commandments God gives us are tools to knowing how to handle the blessings that He wants to give us. Most of all, God wants to bless us with the gift of a loving family. All the commandments teach us how to love others, so that one day when we are given a family we will know how to maintain that family.
8. Appreciate It
When you show appreciation for your gifts, it makes people want to give you more. D&C 78:19 says, “He who receives all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious.”
9. Receive Previously
Did you receive the most recent gift you were given? If someone tried to give you a gift in the past, and you turned it down or didn’t use it or didn’t appreciate it, then that person is a lot less likely to give you another gift any time soon. But when you have received past gifts, and received them well, then the next gifts tend to build on each other and even to prepare you for the next gift. Back with the pony example again, what if a friend tried to give you some horse property in the past, and you didn’t receive it? That would inhibit your ability to receive the pony itself later on. 2 Nephi 28:30 “ . . . unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
10. Love the Giver
Gifts mean the most when they come from those we love the most. God understands that, so when God commands us to love Him, it’s not because He needs our love. It’s because we need our love for Him in order to fully receive.
At this point, one might point out, “But can’t I beat myself up about my inability to receive, just as I would beat myself up about not being good enough? Aren’t you just giving a new name to the same thing?” Not exactly. The difference is that there is never a moment when God isn’t trying to give us something, and it is always within our ability to receive it in that exact moment, because God customizes each gift to fit our current receiving level. Trying to be “good enough” is a never-ending war that we can’t win, but “receiving” is a battle that we can win every single day at a moment’s notice—the moment we reach out and open the gift.
So stop wondering if you’re good enough, and channel that energy instead to wondering, “How can I receive something God is trying to give me right now?” You’ll always be good enough for that, at least.
Some of you may also be thinking, “Okay, okay, I get that I don’t have to worry about being ‘good enough’ in God’s eyes. That doesn’t concern me. But what about just being good enough to get the job I’m applying for, or good enough to make the team, or good enough for my secret crush to go on a date with me?”
While these things may seem to be a different matter, they really aren’t that much different (though initially they seem different because they depend upon being “good enough” in the eyes of our fellow men). Ask yourself, “Even if I don’t get that exact job or that exact team or that exact date, am I open to receiving something of either equal value or better?” Because as long as you meet the ten receiving requirements listed above, and long as you don’t let doubt and discouragement lower your receiving standard, then I can guarantee from personal experience that you will receive something of equal value or better sooner or later.
I could keep going, but I think that’s good enough. At least until I know if my words up to this point have been received . . .