Weakness Is Not Sin: The Liberating Distinction That Awakens Our Strengths (Paperback)
by Wendy Ulrich
An insightful book that both instructs and inspires — profound but also practical. Understanding the vital differences between weakness and sin can help us to trust more fully in the Lord, allowing Him to cleanse us from sin and transform our weaknesses into strengths. A book I will read again and again. — Brent L. Top, professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University
What is the difference between selfishness and depression? Immoral behavior and same-gender attraction? According to psychologist Wendy Ulrich, the difference is that the former are sins, while the latter are merely weaknesses.
In Weakness Is Not Sin: The Liberating Distinction That Awakens Our Strengths, Dr. Wendy Ulrich poses the question: How often do we respond to weaknesses with impatience and guilt, mistaking human fallibility for sin? Ulrich explains that human weaknesses can either lead to sin, or to greater strength through the grace of God — but weakness itself is a morally neutral concept, separate and distinct from sin.
Ulrich cautions that while many become despondent at the prospect of eliminating weaknesses, weakness is really just a part of the human condition. As we distinguish between weakness and sin, we can begin to use our weaknesses for good. Without recognizing this distinction, however, we can experience excessive shame and “miss out on much of the healing and peace God longs to give us,” Ulrich writes.
With keen doctrinal and professional insights, Ulrich helps us understand that sin and weakness have different origins, lead to different consequences, and call for different responses. Understanding the liberating distinction between weaknesses and sin sets us free to feel worthy and find true joy in our redemption. As we understand this important principle, we can learn to focus on strengths, and not despair over that which we cannot change.
- Published: 2009
- Pages: 153
About the Author
Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., M.B.A., was a psychologist in private practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan for almost fifteen years before moving with her husband to Montreal (where he presided over the Canada Montreal Mission), then Alpine, Utah. She founded Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, which offers seminar-retreats for LDS women (sixteenstones.net). She is a mother and grandmother, a columnist for Deseret News, a former president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapist, and a business consultant with The RBL Group. Her books include Forgiving Ourselves, Weakness Is Not Sin, and national best seller The Why of Work, co-authored with her husband, Dave Ulrich.
LEARNING FROM WEAKNESS, LIVING FROM STRENGTH
This book is based on two very simple ideas:
Weakness and sin are very different.
Weakness and strength are not.
Although these ideas are grounded in the scriptures, they run counter to the way we often think. And the way we often think can interfere with our peace, our progress, and our relationship with God.
I never gave much thought to the difference between sin and weakness until recently. I assumed that weakness and sin differed only in degree of seriousness. I heard people pray, “Heavenly Father, forgive us for our sins and weaknesses,” and I also lumped the two together without a second thought. Along with most Latter-day Saints, I assumed that sin and weakness were simply different-sized stains on the dirty clothes I wear, different amounts of my indebtedness to the mercy of God.
I also assumed weakness and strength were opposites—that just makes sense, doesn’t it? Or does it?
Have you ever noticed that some weaknesses can be seeds of great spiritual power? Or how often a person’s life mission emerges from the strengths and gifts God develops from their weakness? As I have reflected on these possibilities I have realized that weakness and strength are not always opposites, and weaknesses are not always negative. Scriptural teachings seem to confirm this possibility, as when the apostle Paul writes, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
While some of us are overconfident of our strength and righteousness when in fact we have a lot of work to do, I believe many good Latter-day Saints don’t “get” how good they really are. I’ve come to believe that not understanding the difference between sin and weakness or the relationship between weakness and strength can fuel this chronic feeling of insufficiency. We can find evidence of our insufficiency everywhere—in last week’s uninspiring (or nonexistent) family home evening lesson, yesterday’s missed deadline, or this morning’s impatience with a fellow commuter. We tune out the sacrament meeting speaker who glows about family history because family history is just one item on a long list of our neglected virtues—a list we can’t imagine ever fully tackling, a list always standing between us and the Lord. We make New Year’s resolutions to chip away at some weakness and then make the same resolutions a year later, and a year later, wondering how long God will put up with us. We berate ourselves for our less-then-stellar Sunday School lesson, our annoyance with our children, our lackluster prayers, our fifteen extra pounds, our irritability with coworkers, our messy garage, our lack of professional development and take it as a given that God’s reaction to these “sins and weaknesses” would be disappointment, even anger, for our lack of commitment, charity, obedience, or sacrifice. We contemplate longingly how much better our lives would be if we could just get rid of those pesky weaknesses that undermine our strengths and separate us from God.
We also get stuck on the question, “Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple?” We know what the answer to this question is supposed to be, but we wonder how anyone could ever feel worthy in every way to enter a place where “no unclean thing shall be permitted to come” (D&C 109:20). We wonder, “What does it take to be worthy? How far down the list of my shortcomings must I go, how many of my failings must I overcome, to be considered clean? If God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, what must He think of me? I have so far to go.”
We don’t just think such thoughts because we lack self-esteem or self-discipline. We may think this way because we mistakenly lump sin and weakness together and assume that guilt and shame are the appropriate response to both.
I have come to believe that my quandary about these things has been based on a mistaken assumption—the mistaken assumption that weakness is sin. As I have carefully considered the Lord’s teachings about sin and weakness, a different assumption has taken shape in my mind and heart about how God views these two human conditions. With that changed view has come clarity about how weak and fallen mortals can still be clean, worthy, and welcome in God’s presence.
Let me reiterate this alternative premise: sin and weakness are very different. They have different origins and different consequences, call for different remedies, evoke different responses from heaven, reside in different aspects of our being, and produce different effects. Sin can take us to hell. Weakness can take us to heaven.
Sin makes us unworthy to enter God’s presence, temple, and kingdom. Sin creates a big problem with eternal consequences. Sin alienates us from ourselves, from the people we sin against, and from our God, who cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. Sin is a choice to follow Satan, the adversary and deceiver. No matter how strong we become, our spiritual progress and joy—the purposes of mortality—will grind to an absolute halt unless we repent of our sins. As long as we are in a state of sin we can never be worthy to enter God’s presence. But through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and subsequent to our repentance, we can be clean from sin. Here. Now.
In contrast, our weakness may make us wince at our folly or embarrass our children, but it does not in itself make us unclean. Weakness is in fact a big part of what we came to mortality to experience and something from which we have much to learn. Weakness is inevitable. Weakness may also hurt those we love, cause us significant problems, and call us to regret, apologies, and hard work, but weakness does not have to alienate us from our Father in Heaven. We will never get rid of all our weakness in this life, but God’s grace can make “weak things become strong”—although not always in the ways we anticipate. His “grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before [Him]” (Ether 12:27). Ultimately God’s capacity to make weak things become strong is perhaps His most wondrous and distinguishing act of creativity, genius, and love.
I’ve come to conclude that weakness can actually contribute enormously to our spiritual progress and joy if we respond to it with humility and the ability to learn. Great strengths can come out of weakness. Such strengths are grounded in the lessons, perspectives, and virtues we can gain as we turn to God with our limitations, pain, disease, struggle, and affliction. The spiritual gifts, talents, and character virtues worthy of our most concerted effort and energy can emerge from our experience with mortal weakness. Our personal mission includes the callings, causes, and relationships through which we contribute these strengths to the world.
This is not to suggest, however, that God wants us to be constantly preoccupied with our weakness. Of course we want to improve, but in that process it is vital we not lose sight of our strengths—our gifts, our goodness, our talents, our virtues. Although weakness can be our great tutor and the seedbed of our greatest learning, ultimately, I believe, we are here to magnify our strengths, our callings, and our gifts—not to magnify our brokenness.
In order to clarify the relationship between weakness, sin, and strength, some definitions are in order. I am using these words as they seem to be most consistently (although not uniformly) used in the scriptures:
Weakness is inherent in the mortal body—which is fashioned from the elements of the earth, shaped by circumstances and experience, and subject to temptation, sickness, injury, fatigue, and death. Out of this general state of human weakness we experience specific weaknesses such as variations in mental or physical well-being, vulnerability to desires and appetites, predispositions to various physical and emotional states, or differing levels of talents or abilities. All these varying attributes come with the territory of having a mortal body.
Sin is a state of rebellion against God. It almost always involves believing Satan over God about what is real, what is useful, or what will make us happy. It often entails self-centeredness, self-deception, and selfishness. Satan tempts us to rebel against God by playing to our weaknesses to entice us to sin. Our specific sins are the behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that enact our choice to believe Satan over God about what is true, right, or helpful. Sin stops our progress in spiritual things and alienates us from the Spirit. Only by repenting of our sins—changing our minds, hearts, and behavior—can we access the Atonement of Christ and qualify for forgiveness. This process returns us to a state of cleanliness before God.
Strength in its highest sense is what makes us more like God. While we often think of strength as having to do with our abilities and talents, the strength that interests God has to do with our character—our moral choices, our spiritual gifts, and our righteous desires. When we repent of our sins and are humble about both our weak human condition and our specific weaknesses, God can help us turn the weakness of being mortal to the strength of blessing others and becoming more like Him. Some of our specific strengths apparently came with us from the premortal experience; others are ours by blessing from the Lord as part of our mortal stewardship; still others we develop here out of weakness through God’s grace.
HOW THESE CONCEPTS RELATE
While later chapters will elaborate on these distinctions, the following model gives a preliminary picture of the relationships between sin, weakness, and strength. Diagram 1 begins with the Fall. We all come into life in a state of weakness. Weakness is inherent in the divine gift of the mortal body, but weakness itself is morally neutral.
As the diagram shows, sometimes we respond to our weakness by believing Satan, which generally involves some form of self-deception. We may also become preoccupied with the opinions of others, feeling pride, shame, fear, anger, or simply indifference to the things of God. These emotional states often push us toward sin, which makes us unclean before God.
The only way out of sin is through repentance, including godly sorrow and trust in the Atonement. When we repent, God promises forgiveness, which returns us to a state of cleanliness before Him.
Diagram 2, which follows, shows us entering the Fall in a state of weakness but responding to our weakness by believing Christ’s description instead of Satan’s about what is real, useful, and happiness-producing. Believing Christ’s description promotes self-awareness and true humility so that we are meek, teachable, nondefensive, willing to learn, and submissive to the Lord. We acknowledge our weaknesses and work to learn and grow. We are patient with ourselves and others.
Through humility we access God’s grace, His enabling power to do what we cannot do on our own. When we are humble, God can use our weaknesses to strengthen us. He turns weakness to strength in a variety of ways, only some of which include getting better at things at which we are currently bad.
Even more important than specific improvement in our areas of weakness are such strengths as compassion, faith, courage, creativity, and other spiritual gifts we can acquire as we respond in humility to our weakness. Through such strengths we can bless other people, fulfill our personal mission, and become more like our Father.
Diagram 3 combines the preceding diagrams into one, highlighting the decision we must make about how we will respond to our weakness—either with humility and faith that lead us toward strength, or with pride and self-deception that lead us toward sin. Choosing humility does not mean we will eliminate all our weaknesses, however. Even if we repent from a sin, we will still have weaknesses. Weakness is an inevitable part of the human condition and will never be fully eliminated in this life. We all sin as well, but sin can be eliminated through repentance and reliance on the Atonement. Sin is a choice we can make—or unmake, thanks to Christ’s Atonement. Sin is a choice. Weakness is a state.
An example may help clarify the process of responding to our weakness.
Jeremy has a predisposition to serious depression. This mortal weakness may have been inherited from his parents, or may have been learned through some difficult childhood experiences, or both. When Jeremy is overstressed for too long he is especially vulnerable to becoming seriously depressed, sometimes for months at a time.
Serious depression, like any physical or mental illness, is a weakness, not a sin. Depression often includes low energy, low self-esteem, lack of pleasure in former interests, irrational guilt, irritability, difficulty feeling positive feelings (including feeling the Spirit), and suicidal thinking. Satan can use this weakness to undermine Jeremy, tempting him to give up on himself, to withdraw from God and other people, even to take his own life. Jeremy combats some of these temptations but gives in to others (believing Satan). He gets angry at his wife, stops praying, and turns to Internet pornography to try to feel better (sin). These sinful responses make Jeremy feel worse, but he resists the idea of getting professional help for his depression because he worries what others will think (pride/shame/fear). He avoids sharing his real feelings with his wife except when he is totally desperate, and then he tells her in anger that he sees no point to life and wishes his were over, terrifying her. Satan tries to use these feelings of worthlessness and despair to further undermine Jeremy’s trust in God’s love and compassion. Even in his depressed state, Jeremy knows anger and pornography are alienating him from the Spirit and those he loves, and he feels terrible for violating his own moral code (beginning of repentance).
Over time, Jeremy begins to realize that his depression (a weakness) is creating serious problems in his life and that he needs help to deal with it (self-awareness and humility). At first he feels horrible about his weakness, but with help from a counselor and support from his wife he begins to learn some things that help (more humility). He starts exercising regularly, he learns some new skills for communicating with others, he starts to talk back to self-defeating thoughts, and he begins to pray with more consistency and honesty. His depression does not just disappear, but he sees improvement (one kind of strength).
Jeremy also feels deep regret about his use of pornography, and he realizes that this as well as his anger and threats of suicide have caused real damage in his marriage (beginning of repentance and change of heart). He gains the courage to apologize to his wife and resist the temptation to see himself as worthless, helpless, and hopeless. But the weakness of depression continues to be a factor in his life. As Jeremy continues to respond to his weakness with genuine humility he is less susceptible to the temptation to give up, get angry, hate himself, look at pornography, or act on his suicidal impulses. He feels God’s grace giving him strength beyond his own to remain humble and teachable, even though he still wrestles with his weakness.
Although Jeremy’s depression is not eliminated from his life, as he realizes that depression is a weakness and not a punishment or a sin, his trust in God deepens. He and his wife feel closer as they become more honest with each other and as he realizes how much she truly cares for him. When the depression returns, he has more tools for coping with it, and he gets better at resisting temptation and enduring with courage. Because of his own struggles, he feels more empathy with a coworker whose son has a drug problem, and he helps the coworker find an affordable treatment program for his son. Jeremy tries to be more patient with the weaknesses of others (developing and using strengths of compassion, love, courage, and faith). He puts as much energy as he can into loving his family, serving in his calling, and developing and contributing his considerable talents and gifts (focusing on strengths, not weaknesses).
Like Jeremy, we can—at the same time—be trying to determine what in our life is a sin calling for repentance and change, and what is a weakness requiring humility and patient learning. We can also identify, develop, and contribute to the world from our strengths, putting as much energy as we can into this aspect of our personal mission. All are essential to the process of spiritual growth we engage in here.
This book explores several aspects of this process. Chapter 2 discusses the distinction between sin and weakness in more detail. Chapter 3 elaborates on how we can avoid self-deception and gain a better understanding of whether we are dealing with sin or weakness. Chapter 4 examines how repentance (the appropriate response to sin) and humility (the appropriate response to weakness) both resemble each other and differ in important ways. Chapter 5 elaborates on the distinction between shame (and other emotional states that draw us toward sin) and godly sorrow, explaining how godly sorrow but not shame facilitates the repentance process. Chapter 6 delineates several ways grace can operate to turn weakness to strength. Chapter 7 helps us identify our specific strengths, and Chapter 8 reminds us that true strength is always in Christ. The implications of this process become more real as we see how they play out in real life. To illustrate some of these implications, let’s consider two stories. The first is about distinguishing sin from weakness. The second is about turning weakness to strength.
A STORY ABOUT SIN AND WEAKNESS
This story comes from the life of a dear friend I’ll call Katherine. Katherine married late in life a wonderful man we’ll call Dean, a gentle and gifted artist. They were deeply in love and found great delight in each other’s company. But Katherine began to notice that Dean was often “forgetful.” Experiences Katherine had shared, information she had passed along, even decisions they had made seemed to slip his mind. She soon figured out that this was not some form of early dementia; Dean just wasn’t paying attention. He often appeared to be engaged in the conversation when his mind and heart were simply elsewhere, wrapped up in his next artistic project or simply retreating into his long-held private space.
Katherine was confused and increasingly hurt by Dean’s lagging concentration. She felt ignored, even rejected, and took her complaint to the Lord. She also talked with Dean to try to figure out what was going on. She thought about his personality, his background, and his otherwise caring heart. The Spirit gradually communicated to her that Dean was in good standing with God and that his inattentiveness to her was not a sin but rather a personal weakness leading to a relationship problem for the two of them to work out together.
Nothing about the way this message was communicated to Katherine felt chastising or uncaring. Instead she felt respected. She was an adult whom God trusted to work out a problem with another adult. Dean’s behavior was bothering Katherine, and Katherine’s hurt feelings were important to the Lord—but Dean’s behavior was not a sin that interfered with his worthiness before God. Even though Dean’s actions hurt Katherine and weakened their loving bond, God didn’t offer to chastise Dean or pity Katherine. Instead she and Dean continued to work on the problem together through gentle confrontation, careful listening, thoughtful problem solving, and extended effort. They came to a better understanding of each other’s needs and personalities. They experimented with ways to improve. Their mutual appreciation and respect grew, along with both greater self-reliance and sweeter interdependence. Their commitment, empathy, and closeness gradually increased. And Katherine began to imagine that a whole host of her own weaknesses and imperfections might also be something God could hold lightly and without ascribing them to sin.
But wait—isn’t it selfish and prideful to ignore your wife? Or wasn’t it wrong of Katherine to take offense and not just forgive? Aren’t such behaviors sinful? Sometimes. And this is where we need the tutoring of the Holy Ghost, the wisdom of the scriptures, a lot of experience, and sometimes the counsel of wise leaders or friends to help us purify our hearts and heal our blindness so we can combat our self-deceptive tendencies and see ourselves and others accurately. There are sins we need to repent of, and sometimes they look on the outside very much like weaknesses we need to be humble about. But there are also weaknesses we need to accept with more patience and goodwill rather than berating ourselves or others for them. God, other people, and the school of experience can help us learn the difference.
My hope in this book is to help clarify the important distinction between sin and weakness—to help us define sin, complete the steps of repentance, and qualify for forgiveness, or to help us identify our weaknesses, live skillfully in a state of genuine and deepening humility, and receive God’s saving grace. Calling sin weakness can lead to failure to repent, a failure that is fatal to our souls. But calling weakness sin can also have devastating consequences: hopelessness, helplessness, undermined growth and learning, and compromised faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
A STORY ABOUT WEAKNESS AND STRENGTH
This book also asserts that as crucial as it is to identify and turn away from our sins, preoccupation with our weaknesses is not really God’s desire for us. Mortal weakness is inevitable, instructive, and potentially of great worth as we rely on the Lord, but we are not here to fuss dejectedly and interminably over our weaknesses. We are
here to contribute to the world, our families, and the kingdom of God from our strengths. While that is a very small part of diagram 3, I believe God intends it to be a very large part of our lives.
So on to my second story, this time a personal one. I served a mission at the age of twenty-one to France and Belgium. As most missionaries do, I left for my field of labor with high hopes, basking in the expectations of my friends and family. I appeared to have the talent, skills, gospel understanding, and testimony to reach, teach, and bring people to Christ. I had a good background in the French language, a solid understanding of the scriptures, and training as a teacher, and I was the third generation of sister missionaries in my family.
Along with these strengths and advantages I also had some serious weaknesses. I was deeply concerned about my marriage prospects, I lacked discipline and stamina, and I had deep-seated fears of failure and of people, as well as a poor immune system and a predisposition to depression. As a result, I was sick almost constantly, depressed often, not very effective or efficient as a missionary and went home a month early with not-yet-diagnosed mononucleosis that I was sure was simply the ultimate marker of my laziness, lack of commitment, and spiritual failure. Even after being properly diagnosed I assumed my illness was somehow self-induced and self-indulgent. For years I could not go to a missionary farewell or homecoming without stabbing emotional regret and deep shame about my “failure” as a missionary. It appeared for all the world that my weaknesses mattered a lot more than my strengths in determining the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my mission. But I didn’t just feel weak—I felt I was sinful and disappointing to the Lord. My first mission was not really about developing strengths; it was about exposing me to my weaknesses. This was very humbling but—as I learned much later—valuable to my future growth.
Fast-forward thirty years: My husband is called as a mission president to Montreal, Canada, and I am called to serve with him. On receiving my call to return to full-time missionary service, I was at first deeply concerned about my worthiness and capacity to serve given my first missionary “failure.” I felt like a hypocrite as I imagined having to teach others about how to be a good missionary. But then I thought, “This time will be different. I have learned the skills of discipline and sacrifice. I can get it right this time. I will get up promptly every morning, read the scriptures for an hour, study with my husband, practice French just like the missionaries, contact everyone I meet, work with the missionaries daily, and never fail my duty. This time I can do it. This time my weaknesses will not undermine me. This time I will succeed.”
“This time” didn’t last a week. I simply hadn’t realized that the expectations for a mission president’s wife, at least where we served, are not nearly as predictable or clear-cut as they are for missionaries at large. Despite my commitment and desire, living every mission rule precisely didn’t always make sense and was not generally even feasible. But not doing so made me feel like a hypocrite. I could see Missionary Failure #2 looming.
My returned-missionary daughter reminded me, “A teacher at school is not a hypocrite just because she doesn’t do all the homework she assigns to students. The teacher’s growth will occur differently from the students’ growth, and she has a different role to fulfill.” Hmmm. Maybe the fact that my Church-provided home included a television set—something missionaries aren’t supposed to watch—should have been my first clue the rules might be a little different for me. But how could I know when I was being obedient in principle versus when I was just making excuses for not following every rule in practice? Was I sinning, or weak? I wasn’t sure.
As I wrestled with how to prioritize and order my day, I got the distinct spiritual impression, “If you have to choose between reading the scriptures and exercising, exercise.” Seldom does spiritual guidance come to me in such distinct and precise terms. I wondered if I could trust such a counterintuitive message. On the other hand, I wasn’t too worried about self-indulgent self-deception precisely because I hate to exercise and I generally love reading the scriptures! I discussed my impressions with my husband. We know each other well and are familiar with each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs. He agreed I should make exercise a priority, and he offered to walk with me.
I soon found myself immersed in the scriptures often and deeply as a natural part of my calling, even though on some days I studied for many hours and other days hardly at all—quite unlike the consistent schedule I had followed as a younger missionary. I also realized that I had spent a lifetime studying the scriptures deeply and that I could draw on that well when time was short. But making time to exercise with any consistency would simply not have happened without major effort to obey the spiritual prompting I received—especially in Montreal weather. Unexpectedly, my (nearly) daily walks with my husband became our planning time, our marriage counseling, our primary emotional connection, and the impetus for our most creative and spiritual insights about our assigned labor. And when the weather was really awful, I learned I could walk on our treadmill and read my scriptures at the same time.
Amazingly, despite extreme temperatures, consistent sleep deprivation, a mediocre immune system, and relentless stress, I was not sick one day of our mission. In fact, I’m sure it was the only three-year time period in my life without a single cold or illness. By obeying a counterintuitive impression from the Spirit, I saw God make my weak immune system, my marriage, and my spiritual life become strong in ways I could not have anticipated.
There were also other ways my early weaknesses as a missionary became strengths for me. Because of that early experience I had great empathy with missionaries who were sick, who had to go home early, or who struggled with depression, discouragement, or lack of skill. I could relate to and understand many of the challenges they faced. My weaknesses helped me better understand other people who shared them, thus increasing my compassion and usefulness. As I pondered and prayed about my weaknesses (like fear of contacting strangers or lack of skill in inviting people to have the missionary lessons) I gained insights that could help not only me but others. Some of my most helpful ideas about how to do missionary work evolved as I dissected my specific worries and skill deficits and got curious about how to improve or work around them.
My weaknesses as a missionary didn’t really change—I never excelled at contacting or inviting—but members and missionaries alike knew I had the same fears and failings they did. They couldn’t write me off as someone unlike them for whom missionary work came naturally. We were in the process of learning together. After returning home I was asked to join an advisory committee for missionary mental health issues, where my experience with weakness gives me empathy and perspective from which to develop materials that can strengthen others. It didn’t all happen when I was twenty-one, but over the course of a lifetime of service, God made much of that early weakness, helping it become a strength that allowed me to bless others.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in Montreal on our mission, I was still acutely aware of my many current weaknesses and failings as a missionary and as a mission leader. I won’t bore you with the details of my inadequacies and downright stupidities, but there were many. I saw glaring holes in my personality, major deficits in my skills and attitude, unhealed emotional wounds that affected my judgment, and flaws and failings that left me feeling like a hypocrite as I tried to teach and lead among missionaries, members, and investigators. As I struggled with my feelings of guilt and frustration the Spirit came through with a second clear and direct message: “I did not call you here so you could eliminate your weaknesses. I called you to serve from your strengths.”
This was an amazing idea for me. I began to see that my preoccupation with my weaknesses was more about pride than righteous desire and that whining about my inadequacy was more annoying than sanctifying. I wasn’t just a bundle of weaknesses. I also had strengths. In fact, awareness of my inadequacy was one of them. And while it was good for me to keep trying at things I didn’t do well, my energy was best spent contributing from my talents and gifts, not just slaving away at my weaknesses. I didn’t have perfect French, but I had a good ear for language and was the first mission president’s wife in years to come with a background in it. I was a trained and experienced psychologist. I had years of experience in the scriptures and in teaching. And I had been blessed with a deep love for the elders and sisters. I began to put my energy into developing talks and training material, counseling with troubled missionaries, and participating in mission affairs. I went out of my way to respond to requests to accompany missionaries in teaching, to speak at member events, and to open our home to investigators. These things were not exactly easy (especially in another language), but they were closer to my strike zone. I realized I was most effective when I could contribute from my relative strengths, gifts, and passions, rather than spending too much time fighting against my weaknesses.
I’ve seen others serve both kinds of missions as well—the kind where God probes, exposes, and calls upon us to work with and contribute from our weaknesses without giving up in shame or frustration, and the kind where He asks us to learn genuine humility even while owning and developing our gifts and strengths. He asks for both our poverty and our riches. Each is its own kind of consecration.
Our personal mission lies in both learning from our weakness and contributing to others from our strength. Developing and contributing our strengths, virtues, aspirations, and gifts is vital to truly living in the fullest and most spiritual sense of that word. At the same time, humility keeps us from basing our self-worth on what we can do. Who we are—our character virtues and spiritual gifts, regardless of our particular skills or talents—is not only enough but all that really matters in terms of God’s purposes for us.
As we repent of our sins, respond with humility to our weakness, and develop and contribute our strengths, God’s grace is sufficient to save and exalt even the weakest among us.
Even me. Even you.
A healing balm for the self-critical soul...
by Customer - reviewed on September 13, 2009
This is a healing balm for my "self-critical" soul. THANK YOU, THANK YOU for taking the time to write this book. Its message is(as the title states) liberating.
It will change how you think about yourself and the Atonement.
by Michelle - reviewed on September 10, 2009
This is a book that ALL LDS members should read because you will gain a better understanding about the Atonement by learning the difference of how God sees weakness and sin. Wendy is an excellent teacher and writer. She uses both real-life and scriptural examples to teach this important doctrine. It will change how you think about yourself and the Atonement. I am giving a copy to everyone! (Christmas, birthdays, church leaders, youth, new members, visiting and home teachers)
This powerfully insightful and inspiring book reframes how to think about weakness and sin.
by joseph - reviewed on September 15, 2009
This last week end I read Dr. Wendy Ulrich’s new book, Weakness is not Sin. Reading this book was remarkable experience. I was uplifted and inspired. I gave my copy to a friend who has subsequently read the same copy and then passed it on to another person. When I return to the States in a few days, my intent is to give copies to the adult members of my family. There are several reasons for my enthusiasm. First, it provides a powerful perspective on the relationship between sin and weakness. Dr. Ulrich builds on her experience as a clinical psychologist, on her personal introspections, on the teaching of church leaders, and, most important, on the scriptures. Through this combination, she unlocks understandings about how to be more faithful in reducing sin while also placing weakness in the perspective of spiritual growth and strength as the Lord teaches in the scriptures. Second, this book gives great cause for hope. It helps us to know where and how we ought to allocate godly guilt in our lives and repent while concurrently it helps us to know how to humbly, constructively and even gratefully address our weaknesses Third, the book is balanced in a very readable manner that achieved by all too few books. It balances sounds doctrine with insightful stories. It is conceptually rich but is imminently practical. It provokes deep emotion but is concurrently intellectually satisfying. It is personally elevating but motivates to humility and godly reliance Fourth, the book is deeply personal. It reads as if Wendy were sitting across the room from you and you are having a profound discussion with a wise and dear friend. You trust her insights and advice because of spirit in which they are conveyed and the transparency and deeply personal honesty with which they are offered. Finally and, perhaps, most important is that Weakness is not Sin gives me additional insights into the nature of God and my relationship to Him. It provides insights about the eternal perspectives that our Father has for each of us and of the goodness, mercy and love that our Savior brings to our lives.
Accessible, Liberating, and Warm
by Customer - reviewed on October 06, 2009
Love the book. I liked Dr. Ulrich's previous book, but this one was an easier read, which is helpful when one is engaged in lots of introspection. It boosted my confidence and my appreciation for the plan my Heavenly Father has for me. On a related note, I counsel many individuals and have had much success talking through this book with them. The message is so powerful for many of us that one individual only had to look at the cover to be brought to tears.
by justin - reviewed on October 28, 2009
I was lucky enough to have a good friend tell me about Wendy Ulrich’s book: Weakness is Not Sin. I was pleasantly surprised to find practical models for application in many of the circumstances that I have found myself when serving and assisting others in my calling as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. Interestingly, what started out as a read on how I could assist others, actually ended up as a practical guide for myself to be more constructive in shaping my own self perception. The inspiring anecdotes are insightful and heart-warming.
by Heather - reviewed on December 08, 2009
A wellspring of hope that refreshes the soul and revitalizes the will to try. Dr. Ulrich does a superb job of differentiating between human weakness inherent in the mortal condition and sin. The reader is left with a renewed zeal for life and a profound appreciation for the role of the Savior in God’s plan. A truly inspiring work of literature. Well done, Wendy.
Very well written
by Julianne - reviewed on December 16, 2009
I was unsure about this book when I heard the title, but was very impressed once I got started. The topic is presented in a useful way. I was able to compare the ideas to experiences in my life and when I finished the book I felt more aware of who I am and how my choices affect my life.
by Michelle - reviewed on August 03, 2010
This book goes on my top five list of books that have had the greatest impact on me. I heartily recommend it.
by Stephanie - reviewed on January 15, 2013
I gained many Ah-ha's and insights from reading this awesome book. Instead of feeling discouraged and fed up with my weaknesses, this book helped me see them in a new light and feel grateful for them. Was so helpful in helping me go more to the Lord, rather than just be frustrated and discouraged which takes me away.