“Elder Minson, do you ever feel stagnant?”
More than 20 years ago, I was a full-time missionary, working daily to spread the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. At a particular point, you could probably say things were going well, but maybe too many of my conversations with my line leader over the phone sounded a little too similar. So he asked me that question.
As soon as he asked, I knew that’s how I was feeling.
In various professional industries, and in particular in the Scrum methodology for product development, a core principle is continuous improvement. Each sprint or iteration of work, you and your team are expected to inspect and adapt—in other words, look at how you’re doing and make adjustments in order to reach your goals.
If you’re not improving, you’re stagnating at best. The word calls to mind a murky, greenish pool that’s the gathering place of undesirable elements.
As important as education and development are in a temporal sense, making progress spiritually is vital. In spite of clear benefits of putting in the work to become incrementally a better person each day, we might find reasons for avoiding that effort and never truly realize the benefits and blessings offered by our Redeemer.
We probably all know people who are good at becoming a better person. I wrote the Parable of Miriam’s Employees as a way to examine why we might not be good at it. A diagnosis, an acknowledgment of a shortcoming, is the beginning of improvement. But each of the employees on her team had an unhealthy view on this subject.
Randy believed he was good enough the way he was, and he was being authentic by staying that way. If he tried to change, then he was no longer being himself. In a gospel context, this could be believing that God created me the way I am, and He loves and accepts me that way, so there’s no need for me to change.
Nora held the attitude that she outperformed those around her, which not only was false, but in her mind it created the excuse that as long as she was doing better than others, that was sufficient and she need not take any additional steps to improve. Her measuring stick was a mistaken perception of how others were performing rather than her own performance. When it comes to the gospel, Nora’s position is akin to holding a self-righteous self-image and believing that because I’m doing so many things well—checking the boxes—and better than others, then I’m well on my way and I’ll be among the first in line for a reward from God. But in reality, because I set so much stock in my own supposed obedience, like Simon the Pharisee of old, I’m worse off than the weeping woman who recognized she needed Christ’s mercy (Luke 7:36–50).
Finally, we have Kevin. He was on the right track, but he couldn’t recognize that he was. All he could see was his faults and the gap between who he was at that moment and who he wanted to be. Understanding this gap is important, but when it dominates and we always feel like we’re not really getting anywhere in spite of our adherence to the gospel, then it’s detrimental to our progress. I believe that Heavenly Father wants us to have a realistic, well-rounded view of ourselves—the good, the bad, and everything in between. He sees all those things, and He believes in both our need and our potential to progress.
Which team member am I? Which one are you?
Of course, this list is probably not exhaustive. But we are often our own obstacle to progress.
After my missionary line leader asked me if I felt stagnant, and we talked about it, he came to my apartment and gave me a priesthood blessing. I received counsel from the Lord through him; I made some changes, and my outlook improved.
The Lord invites us to examine ourselves and to repent where necessary. To own up to the ways we fall short. To seek forgiveness and the grace to walk more uprightly before Him. To become more of what He designs to make of us.
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