Room for personal growth

"Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God." (D&C 18:10.)

One of the great challenges that all of us have in life is to define ourselves. Who are we? What are we capable of doing? What do we have to offer that no one else can?For we sense almost from the beginning of our life that we are indeed unique. In all of history, no other person has existed who is quite like us, with our individual set of genes, parents, history, grandparents and family. And as we grow we continue to build on that individuality, learning differently, seeing differently, acting differently _ in effect building our own set of life's filters through which we become the person that we are.

Members of the restored Church have an even greater understanding of that basic fact of existence. The Lord explained in a revelation to Joseph Smith: "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." (D&C 93:29.)

And we further know that one of the great goals of the gospel is to bring us back to our Father in Heaven as a wiser, more experienced individual. Indeed, the gospel is here to help us become the complete person that our Creator intended us to be. In His wisdom He also told us that we were not all the same, that where there were two spirits, one was more intelligent than the other, and that God is the most intelligent of all. (Abr. 3:18.)

In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord elaborated on this great principle of individuality when He discussed the precious gifts that are given to all men by the Spirit of God. "To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby," He said. (D&C 46:12.) Some of us may be given the gift to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, others to believe on their words. Some may know the differences of administration, others diversities of operations or wisdom. Some may have the word of knowledge. Some may have the faith to be healed, others the gift of healing. (D&C 46:13-20.)

How futile, then, to try to deny our individuality; or even sadder, to think that what we have to contribute to the work of the kingdom of God is less needed because our offering is not the same as others. The truth is, the kingdom needs all of us, with all our experiences and insights. With the message of the gospel being taught throughout the world and in many tongues and cultures, there is great room for individuality and personal growth.

As always, of course, the gospel gives us direction in our journey. Standards are set, guidelines installed and the goal defined. Those are our markings along the way, measurements of our progress and support for our deepest needs.

To some that becomes a paradox: we emphasize individual growth, but we also must acknowledge our dependence upon guidance and love from others. President Ezra Taft Benson, writing of the charge we have to increase in wisdom and favor with God and man, cautioned that, "It is intellectual pride that leads one to think he is self sufficient in matters of mind and of spirit. Let us ever realize the difference that exists between a discoverer of the truth and the Lawgiver of all truth. The first is human; the other divine." (New Era Sept. 9, 1979.)

President Benson at another time noted that we should remember it is the individual who is of supreme worth. "You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence," he said. "Our great benefactor, Brigham Young, understood the basic principle that you cannot help a man permanently by doing for him what he could do and should do for himself." ("Concerning Principle and Practices," Church News, June 4, 1947.)

Our job, then, is to seek out advice, to find the standards that will help us in our growth, but to maintain that individual spark that is the essential us. We are given the opportunity by our Creator to improve ourselves, that we may return to our Heavenly Father as sanctified, perfected individuals.

That is a formidable task that cannot be accomplished alone. The Lord, our families _ parents, spouses, children _ our friends, associates and fellow members of the Church are an essential part of this process. Certainly our growth must be nurtured with the care of others, even as we assume a sacred obligation to help them in their growth. We cannot allow our own growth to take place at the expense of others. Sometimes when we seek to develop our individuality, we tend to turn inward, and when that happens a strong dividing line is drawn between individuality and just plain selfishness.

With all of the trials in this world, it may not always be easy to achieve our potential. The comfort that comes from a longer view offered by the gospel can resolve our frustrations of the moment. But we must embrace the vision and do our utmost to live by the light we have been given.