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Don't should all over yourself.

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While this will be my second post here at UoM, and it will also be the second time I’ve been thinking about and structuring a post (or a few posts) in my head and then written about something completely different than what I was planning.

Over at Various Stages this week they have been talking about sins of omission and have had some great posts on the topic. I think a broad range of things have ben covered- with Sarah's weekly post conspicuously absent- which I thought was quite clever whether or not it was intentional. (And by the way, congrats Sarah!)

James tells us that to know good and do it not is sin- but how far exactly does that extend? In Kaycee's post she calls the concept of sins of omission unfair and asks the very important question "where do we draw the line?" because it certainly does seem there is always something more that could be done. When is not doing more a sin?

I've always liked Elder Maxwell's discussions on discipleship- and in a talk delivered at BYU, The Pathway of Discipleship, he talks about sins of omission quite a bit.

To underscore further the dimensions of discipleship in our mortal experience, one way of looking at the “thou shalt not” commandments is that these prohibitions help us to avoid misery by turning us away from that which is enticing but harmful and wrong. However, once we are settled in terms of the direction of our discipleship and the gross sins are left firmly behind—“misery prevention” it might be called—then the major focus falls upon the “thou shalt” commandments. It is the keeping of the “thou shalt” commandments which brings even greater happiness. True, as the scripture says, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10), but neither is lukewarmness full happiness. Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness. Then we can come to know true joy—after all, man is that he might have joy (see 2 Ne. 2:25).

It is very often the sins of omission which keep us from spiritual wholeness, because we still lack certain things.

Elder Maxwell then speaks of the rich young ruler who asked Christ what he must do to gain eternal life. "A customized commandment thus came for that man. It was something he needed to do, not something he needed to stop doing, that kept him from wholeness."

The rich young ruler had the opportunity to personally ask Christ what he must do- but how are we to know what we must do to become whole? Further,the rich young ruler knew clearly what he needed to do to become whole- his sin of omission became a sin of commission once it was explicit. So are only the explicit sins of omission actually sins?

I think that we each have an obligation to actively seek to do good. We also have an obligation to seek personal revelation. As the spirit prompts us, and as we see places we can help- then we can act. When we know there is something we are supposed to do and we don't do it- then we are guilty of a sin of omission. I don't think that just because more could have been done it means you are sinning. More wasn't necessarily supposed to be done and you can only do so much. But if you don't ever even do what you can do- then there's a problem.

There are times we consciously chose not to do something that could be good. I think that's ok. I think that if we aren't always consciously avoiding things we should do and we are seeking regularly to be self aware and improve who we are that's the most we can do.

If we look at everything that we could do, everything positive that would help us that we aren't doing, etc- there becomes more than we can handle.
When I feel like there are things all around me I should do, I often avoid doing any of them well and just feel guilty about all of them- the guilt just makes it worse. For quite a while I used the word should a whole lot. (I still use it a lot- just not as much) Well, I should... I should be...
But most of the time no real change came in accordance with it- just feeling bad mostly about things where I have no reason to feel bad. A friend told me that constantly worrying about what I "should" do but can't or don't is a pretty shouldy way to live.
And she was right.

We can be happy with where we are as individual people and also seek to grow and not stay where we are. But we also can't crap all over ourselves constantly because we aren't further along- it doesn't make us happy and it doesn't really help anyone.

more from Elder Maxwell
Wickedness is not the only mortal failure. Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God?

There is a memorable scriptural phrase about our need to have “faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15, 16). Faith unto repentance covers both sins of commission and sins of omission. And so the faith of discipleship isn’t simply for life’s crises, though they will come. Rather, it is especially needed to ensure our regular repentance. After all, the scriptures are filled with “thou shalt” commandments and with many exhortations for us to do good. James, for instance, speaks of pure religion, urging us to visit and bless the variously deprived (see James 1:27).

Repentance entails attempting to change- but it also entails turning to God, asking for his help, and giving up our guilt.
The point of discussions about sins of omission is that avoiding evil isn't good enough. If we just hide from the world all the time to avoid doing anything wrong, what do we contribute?
So should we repent for sins of omission? Of course. Give up your guilt. Just do what you can. When you know you could have done better- just recognize it, move on, and do better the next time. We don't have to cripple ourselves with guilt.

3 Responses to “Don't should all over yourself.”

  1. Blogger Brett 

    I think we often forget one of the distinct docterines of Mormonism is that progression is eternal. Instead, we put so much on this life thinking if we don't perfect ourselves here than we're doomed to be spiritually retarded the rest of eternity.
    The point of this life IMO is to come to Christ so he can get us to the Celestial Kingdom then we can really get down to business when it comes to perfecting ourselves.
    Of course I don't use this as an excuse to not hometeach, pray, ect, I do the best I can. I just don't beat myself up if I don't do it perfectly because I have a testimony that I'll be able to work on those things after this life.

  2. Blogger annegb 

    Oh, thank you for this. I loved your last paragraph. I will read it again and again.

    I tend to punish myself forever, still think of things I did as a little girl that I am so sorry for.

    I recently read a book called The Peacegiver, which helped me somewhat.

    But we need reminders like this constantly. Life is very hard.

  3. Blogger Mike 

    one thing about a lot of things that we should be doing but don't- not doing them puts us in places where we are more likely to commit sins

    When you actively look for ways to help people- you are less likely to take opportunities to screw someone over.

    When you are studying your scriptures regularly you will be conditioned (through the spirit or social conditioning and cognitive disonance) to avoid things the scritpures teach are sins.

    If King David had been where he was supposed to be and doing his duty as King in the first place he wouldn't have been hanging out on his roof to lust after a bathing woman in the first place.

    So often we hear of getting caught up in something pretty bad due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time- I think that a lot of the times we knew it was the wrong place and probably could have avoided a lot of misery.

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