Hans Christian Anderson is the author of many children’s stories; among them is the story of the Ugly Duckling. It starts with a family of ducks, the mother happy and proud of her young ducklings – all except one. This particular duckling was large and rather ugly. The rest of his family made fun of him, teasing him for how he didn’t look anything like the other ducks. One day, the ugly duckling decided it would be better for everyone if he left, so he flew away. As he traveled, he saw a flock of beautiful and majestic white birds who were full of grace and power. He decided to join them, even though he was sure they would tease him and treat him the way everyone else did. As they stopped at a pond, the ugly duckling looked into the water and saw, to his surprise, a beautiful and glorious swan staring back at him. The other swans gathered around him and declared that he was the most majestic and beautiful of them all. The ugly duckling, now a magnificent swan, had finally found his true identity.
How many of us allow the opinions of the world to weigh us down and keep us from recognizing who we are and our divine potential? I know I tend to forget this sometimes and allow the way others think of me to become a little too important to who I am. But as I’ve grown in my knowledge of the world and in my testimony of the Gospel, I remember more and more often that the world is wrong. Instead of being nobody of any importance, I am the daughter of a King – the daughter of the most glorious Being in the Universe. Our Father in Heaven created this Earth specifically for His children to live. We’ve been given bodies, experiences, family and friends who help us to grow and be strengthened in ways that will only bring us closer to Him. The experiences I’ve had throughout my life have taught me over and over just who God really is. I’ve discovered that He is not, in fact, just an all powerful, all knowing God. He’s not up there directing traffic and deciding who to strike down with lightning whenever He feels they need it. He is keenly aware of each and every one of us, not just that we are alive or in need, but He knows when we’re happy, sad, struggling, frustrated, ready to give up or ready to keep going. And not only does He know all of that, but He CARES, too. He is our Father. Matthew 7:7-11 says: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” If we care about each other here, and if we were created in God’s image, wouldn’t it make sense that He cares about us too, and He knows what we need and want, just as parents here know what their children need or want?
Romans 8:16-17 says: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” Any parent who loves their child even a little bit most likely wants them to have the best life possible. They give their child what they need to learn and grow, to become better than they were the day before. The parents generally urge their children to receive as much education as they can while also learning any skills that will be helpful throughout their lives as children, teenagers, adults and eventually parents themselves. The more I learn about my relationship with Heavenly Father, the more I can see that this is the same relationship we have with our families here – Heavenly Father is willing and wants nothing more than for us to have everything that he has! And it is beautiful, enlightening, inspiring and brings me great happiness to know that I can say not only do I know OF my Heavenly Father, but I actually KNOW Him and I know that He is that way.
Prayer has become especially important to me in the last year. I briefly served with a companion who taught me how important prayer is through her simple and quiet example. She was only in our trio for about five days before transfers happened, but in those few days, she changed me. At night, she would ask if either I or my other companion needed to use the restroom before bed, then she would go in, turn on the fan, and say her prayers out loud. It was the only privacy she could get, but I could tell how much it meant to her and how much greater and stronger her relationship with Heavenly Father was because she took that time and made it sacred and personal. When transfers came, just a few months before I returned home, I told my new companion, fresh from the MTC, that I wanted to improve my prayers by saying them out loud at night. As we both made a concerted effort to have more sincere prayers, my two or three minute prayers, sometimes only 30 second prayers, turned to being 20 or 30 minutes long. I never knew I could have conversations like that with my Father in Heaven. I never understood how anyone could pray for that long until I tried it myself. I realized that prayers aren’t just to thank God and ask for things. I learned on a deeper level that my Father in Heaven wants to know EVERYTHING that’s on my mind and in my heart. He loves me unconditionally, no matter what I do, say or feel. I opened up to Him more than I ever had before. I poured out my heart and soul during that time each night. Previously, I had simply said what I was grateful for, asked Him for things I needed and got into bed. Now, I do those things, too, but I also tell Him things that I’m afraid to admit, even to myself. I share with Him my worries, doubts, fears, joys, and every thought I’ve had throughout the day that is important to me. The time I spend on my knees is so precious and personal. But I don’t have to be on my knees to communicate with my Heavenly Father. I pray whenever I feel the need, which is generally at least ten times a day. Those prayers or mostly short, simple ones for strength, guidance, or gratitude. Because I take time every morning, day and night to get on my knees and have a real conversation with God, I know Him better, and I know and love myself better.
Because of sincere prayers, I can better recognize what I am worth to a God who created the Universe and who has so many things to do that it might seem as if I’m worth nothing. But I know that I am important, and I am a tool in the Lord’s hands. He is using me to strengthen and beautify others, who they are, their knowledge and their testimonies. Through my diligent, humble, kind and loving service, lives have been and will be changed and the world will become a better place. I know that I have touched so many lives throughout the years I’ve been privileged to live on this earth, but just the same, those lives have touched me. Through their diligence, humility, and kind and loving service, they have been tools in the Lord’s hands as well, to shape and change me into who I am today, and to continue shaping and changing me into who I can become.
Mosiah 4:6-9 says: “…if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body – I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is non other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you. Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” This passage describes who God is, but also (and more importantly) it describes a way that we can become as He is. It all starts with believing in Him and coming to know who He is. As we understand who He is, we begin to understand our need to be obedient to Him and follow the commandments with full purpose of heart and with joy! Obedience is truly a blessing and something that each of us should embrace without grumbling about how many rules there are or picking and choosing which ones we like. We cannot truly follow God and achieve our divine potential if we do not love Him enough to keep His commandments. The sister who trained me on my mission loved to follow the missionary rules. She always made sure we were up before 6:30 in order to be ready for a full half hour of exercise. We left the apartment precisely at 10am and didn’t return until 9pm or later. Our lunch breaks lasted exactly an hour and we did everything we could to keep our appointments short, sweet and to the point. At first, I thought she was insane and over the top. What did it hurt being a few minutes late going out the door or early coming in? Did we REALLY have to exercise for exactly 30 minutes? Did I seriously have to talk to that guy all the way down the block and across the street? Or the woman with a screaming child? Was it such a bad thing to skip one night of updating the area book since we’d worked hard all day and needed more sleep? These questions often came to mind whenever I struggled with being obedient, but eventually, I came to really love it. Our mission president taught us that obedience brings blessings but exact obedience brings miracles – we tried our very best to be exactly obedient, and I can testify that miracles really did happen. We always had around 15 investigators and lots of support from the ward. We often met people in circumstances which wouldn’t have happened without the hand of the Lord. Every night as we planned for the next day, we wrote down different ways that we saw the hand of the Lord throughout that particular day. My page was always filled with so many things which ranged from seeing different kinds of wildlife, thunderstorms, meeting new people, or seeing the progression of investigators and less-actives. I believe that it had everything to do with our determination to be obedient in as many ways as we could think of. And I believe and know that as I strive to continue being exactly obedient, even though I’m no longer a full-time missionary, miracles can and will happen.
As we are obedient to the commandments, we learn to be humble, more kind and loving. We also learn to serve others and to have charity. Our lives are no longer about “me”, but rather about “everyone but me”. And that is what God is all about – everyone but Himself. Becoming like God kind of sounds like an impossible feat. Some might even classify it as blasphemous. But it is possible and it is not blasphemous because it is true. We are His children. He loves us and has told us exactly how we can become as He is. Jesus Christ has already done it, and because of Him, we can do it, too. We’re taught both in Matthew 5:48 and 3 Nephi 12:48 that we should be perfect even as our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are perfect. Along with that, Jesus Christ teaches over and over again HOW we can become perfect – have faith, repent, be baptized and partake of the sacrament, receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the end. Each time we do these things (because we do have to do them all more than once) we grow in humility, grace, forgiveness, diligence, patience, charity, and service and many other godlike attributes.
In a YSA devotional, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf referred to the story of the Ugly Duckling and taught that we often neglect to see who we really are and we let ourselves get down and upset over it, especially when other people judge us negatively for who we are. But instead, we should see that we ARE special. We aren’t “just little ol’ me”. We have the potential and the power to become as God is, to inherit all that He has and is. When we see ourselves in that way, we become able to see others in that way, as our brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God, and we have the desire to serve them and to do all that we can to see them happy. We don’t think twice about it because we love them, the way our Father in Heaven loves each of us.
So if you ever find yourself thinking “What’s so special about me? I’m just like everyone else” or even “what’s wrong with me? I can’t ever do anything right” – whether you mean that in a way that says “I’m not good enough” or in a way that says “I’m simply just another person,” you need to know, brothers and sisters, that that is the exact opposite of the truth. You are a beautiful, glorious and divine son or daughter of God, your Father in Heaven. You are unique and wonderful in each of your own ways. You have strengths and weaknesses that come together to help others who have strengths and weaknesses different from your own. Those things, your best and your worst, are what make you who you are. What you do with them determines who you become.
I know that we can become just like our Father in Heaven. One day, if we continue on the path of righteousness and repentance, we will truly inherit all that He has. Heavenly Father knows us perfectly, and better than we know ourselves. He believes that we can become like Him, so why shouldn’t we believe it, too?