It’s popular these days to hearing something along the lines of: “always remember, you are loved just as you are!”
To paraphrase one author, ‘You are loved, worthy and beautiful. You are enough – just as you are. And nothing, and no one can ever change that.’
It’s a lovely sentiment – and something we really do love to believe…about ourselves and about God.
Most often, this message includes an emphasis on “being who you really are” and “accepting who you really are” as central to health and happiness – and therefore, something surely pleasing to God.
“You are who you are,” people are told, “you just need to accept it.” After all, you need to be “whoever God made you to be.”
This is often characterized as a kind of enlightenment and discovery regarding “true love” – typically set in contrast to others’ teaching on love. Compared to other views of love, for instance, this view aims to affirm the “perfection” of people…just as they are – with other teachings about love, by default, seen as (inherently) hateful, judgmental, and “un-Christlike.”
Does that include Jesus?
On one level, any who know Christ are acutely aware of how much His love meets us in this very (present) moment: that generosity, grace, compassion…Any who have approached the Almighty seeking repentance have experienced this welcoming embrace first-hand. And it’s something all prophets have taught.
But the prophets don’t stop there. Especially those who have encountered Jesus personally say something more:
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).
Once the Lord meets us in his uniquely gracious way, what does He say next?
“And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (3 Nephi 11: 37-38).
It’s worth pointing out: MUST is a word Americans NEVER use – so forceful as to be almost pejorative in our modern culture. But Jesus used it – including in this, His message to the traumatized people of Nephi soon after they met personally. Despite their fragile state, Jesus made it very clear what He intended to do for (and within) anyone willing to follow Him. He intended to change them. Elsewhere, Alma describes this as the “mighty change” that God Himself can work in us.
Returning again, to the question: Is God’s love so “unconditional” that He doesn’t care about anything but ‘who we are’?
My own experience is that after connecting with us enough to confirm His love, Jesus invites us to give Him our hearts – to surrender, to yield and to let Him change us.
“And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved” (Omni 1:26).
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).
Rather than you and I being ‘enough’ to God (just as we are), the teaching of scripture seems to point toward a very different message.
On one level, it’s true that there is fundamental wholeness and goodness in each of our spirits and core ‘selves’ that reflects divine DNA. On another level, however, it’s also true that those spirits (and selves) can be – and are – hijacked by all sorts of things as we come into world…things that are not reflective of who we really are.
Buddhists speak of this as a “delusion” we are all born into. Christians call it “the fallen world” – both of which can presumably blind us to things as they really are and socialize us away from our “true self.”
Although the scope and limits of this fallen impact are debated, most Christians would agree that the body, mind, heart and spirit itself can be weighed down, deformed and held in bondage in various ways and degree. As for the Buddhists, they similarly insist that we are all “born into delusion” (not just the “schizophrenics”).
If that’s true, then it makes sense that some kind of redemption and deliverance (or awakening and enlightenment) is also needed. From a place of personal, emotional and even biological captivity, we might even expect this process of deliverance and waking up to be, at times, outright excruciating…Maybe that’s why the prophets say things like this, in reference to God’s people:
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (translated elsewhere as crucifying certain “passions and desires”) (Galatians 5:24)
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6)
If I am reading our theology right, aspects of ‘who we are right now’ may need to be literally destroyed – in order for God to create something else. That’s certainly been painfully true of my own experience.
As is often the case, C.S. Lewis puts it best:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity)
If Lewis and Alma are right, our God intends this life as a process of becoming…one that radically changes us.
Rather than ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ or ‘whole’ as we naturally are, the gospel message is that we become fully whole, perfect and good through Him (and only through Him). As described in modern scripture, “just” individuals are “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69).
Instead of insisting we are ‘enough,’ then, the gospel message is that Jesus is enough: “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Rather than some self-help project of reducing our errors by our own hard work, this is about becoming whole or “perfected” in Christ (Moroni 10:32). Whatever work is needed to arrive at this point, He is the one who does it – not simply us, for as Paul says ,“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 1:6).
While popular voices in society will continue saying, “this is who you are, this is how life is going to be.” The Lord so often says something else, “NO – this is not who you are and how your life has to be. There is such a mighty change of heart. And you are a child of God!”
To be very clear: it’s true our Father God loves us right now …whatever is happening. This doesn’t mean, however, that He loves ‘who we are’ without conditions…Instead, because He loves us, His work is to radically change and shape that ‘who we are’ in a pattern where we become something far, far more glorious than we currently believe ourselves to be.
If that’s true, then maybe it’s time to stop mistaking being loved where we are for being loved ‘just as we are.’
From a mindfulness writer that Elder Christofferson quoted in his most recent address, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him” (Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, 2014, 17–18).