I did not always have the joy of Christ in my life. Instead, I found that trying to keep my soul worthy of exaltation was a great burden. My mind was focused on the concept of being worthy. Of course there are many things for which we must be worthy: worthy to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, worthy to receive the Priesthood, worthy of a temple recommend, worthy to hold certain leadership positions. But my mind extended the idea of worthiness to many additional things: worthy to receive the love of God, worthy to have His Spirit to guide me through trials and temptations, worthy of His forgiveness.

A scripture I never understood, and in my own life I could not even comprehend is Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” For me the yoke was not easy and the burden was not light. In order to feel that I was in the good graces of God I felt that I must keep myself pure and holy. And what an order that was. I must be a good husband and father, to be faithful in holding Family Home Evening, in regular temple attendance, in service in the church–whether as a missionary in my youth, a Sunday School teacher, a Priesthood Quorum leader, a Home Teacher, or a Scoutmaster. No matter how much service I gave, I always felt I could have given more. No matter how hard I tried, I felt I could have tried harder. No matter how good I was, I never felt “good enough”. No matter how much I resisted some temptations, and repented sincerely, I would always fall again. I just didn’t feel “worthy”. I wasn’t “good enough”. So the yoke was not easy, the burden was not light, and I did not find rest to my soul.

Now we know that it is through the Atonement of Christ that we are saved, and not by our own works. But there were a few scriptures that confused me. One is 2 Nephi 25:23: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by Grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” It is clear that we must believe in Christ, for it is by grace that we are saved. But the phrase, “after all we can do” put the burden back on me. Have I ever done “all I can do” so that I might merit the grace of God? And in James 2:14-26 James makes it clear that “faith without works is dead”. He said further, “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” Again I felt the burden that my works, my service, my faithfulness must be great, or I must not have sufficient faith.

A turning point came in my thinking when I read a parable by Max Lucado in his book “In the Grip of Grace”. In this parable a father lived with his five sons in a beautiful mansion on a mountainside overlooking a wild and beautiful river. The eldest son faithfully followed his father, but the other four were always getting into mischief. Contrary to their father’s admonition, the four sons were one day playing by the river, got caught in it, and were swept far away downstream to a strange land.
For a long time they met together each evening by a fire and talked of their father and waited for Him to come for them. Then one by one, the brothers stopped returning to their meeting place. The first chose to live among the local inhabitants and became indifferent to the memories of his former home and father. The second chose to sit on a hillside, watching the first, so he could report the sins of the first to his father. The third began building a pathway alongside the stream to work his own way back to his father, saying surely his father must accept him back when he has shown his faithfulness by his works. But the fourth son continued to return to the fire each night and wait for his father to find him. Finally one night the firstborn son appeared to the fourth brother, having been sent by the father to bring them all back. The fourth son was filled with joy that his faith and his waiting were fulfilled by the appearance of his elder brother. When the two visited the other brothers, they each preferred to stay in the life they had chosen. The first to remain indifferent to the father and the eldest son, the second to stay to document the sins of the first, and the third remained determined to earn the forgiveness of his father by his faithfulness and works in building his own path back to the father’s presence. Saddened by the refusal of the other three to accept his help, the firstborn son carried the last one up the river and back to his father.

What does this story mean to me? I was like the third brother, attempting to earn the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of my Father through my faithfulness–essentially to earn the grace of Christ. But what did the fourth son do to merit his return to the Father? He continued in his faith, his hope, and his trust that his Father would send for him, and nothing more. I discovered it is my faith and trust in Christ, not my works, that make me fit for His Atonement and Grace. (My works do nothing more than to demonstrate my faith.)

Returning to 2 Nephi 25:23, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”, the question is: what is meant by “all we can do?” The remainder of the chapter emphasizes that what we must do is: to continue to have faith in Christ.

After the destruction of the Americas at the crucifixion of Christ, a voice came from heaven and said, “…And ye shall offer unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit…Therefore, whoso repenteth and come unto me as a little child, him will I receive…” (3 Nephi 9:20-22). Repenteth as a little child–this was the next great change that helped bring the joy of Christ into my life. In our five steps of repentance we: 1. Recognize our sin. 2. Feel sorry for it. 3. Ask for forgiveness. 4. Commit the sin no more. 5. Make restitution where we can. My downfall was my inability to do step 4, to “sin no more”. No amount of struggle, no amount of willpower, no amount of determination, no amount of service, could keep me feeling “worthy”, could keep me feeling “good enough”, when I constantly failed to live without sin.

And then I discovered a whole group of people who were like me, who did not have the power within themselves to rise above their difficulties. Many in this group had practically destroyed their lives and their families by their weaknesses. This group had a set of “steps of repentance” that was just as rigorous as ours, but placed reliance on God, rather than themselves, to overcome their weaknesses. These steps as summarized in my words are: 1. Admit I am powerless over my weakness and my life has become unmanageable. (Recognize our sins and weaknesses.) 2. Come to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. (Have a belief in Christ, but not necessarily faith.) 3. Make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God. (This is now having faith in Christ). This group has a sort of set prayer that they say at this point: “God, I offer myself to thee, to do with me and to build with me as Thou wilt. I ask that you relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. And I ask that You take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do thy will always!”

And now the part that fulfills “…after all we can do” from 2 Nephi, and to repent as a little child from 3 Nephi: 4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Search our souls for our real character defects and the underlying cause of our sins and weaknesses.) 5. Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (Recognize no one else is responsible for our weaknesses and difficulties.) 6. Are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly ask him to remove our shortcomings. At this point they have another prayer that goes, “My creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” There are additional steps to complete the repentance process, but for the present purpose I’ll stop here.

What a novel concept: asking God to remove our shortcomings rather than removing them ourselves. Is this not having faith in Christ? Is this not “coming to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit”? Is this not relying on the grace and the Atonement of Christ, rather than on ourselves? Is this not showing our faith by our works? Is this not “doing all we can do?” My brothers and sisters, I testify that as I have during the last two years continued to “turn my will and my life over to the care of God” that my burdens have been lifted, that He has taken upon Him my weaknesses and shortcomings, that I have been relieved of feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and that my life has been filled with the joy of accepting Christ into my life.

In Ether 12:27 Christ says, “And if men come unto me I will show them their weaknesses. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Finally, after all these years of struggle to become “good enough” on my own, I have learned how to humble myself before Christ, and He has, at last, begun to make “weak things become strong” unto me.

And what do I do now that I no longer feel that I need to earn the right to the grace of Christ? Max Lucado said it best for me, “I do not give service to be saved. Instead, I give service because I am saved.” Being relieved of feeling “not good enough”, I can now serve because I feel the love and forgiveness of Christ. I can serve because I love those I serve.

There is great joy that comes with accepting the full measure of the Grace of Christ in my life. And now I can truly say, “His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and I have found rest unto my soul.”