Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Weakness is Not Sin, by Wendy Ulrich

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Weakness is Not Sin by Wendy Ulrich is about how weakness and sin are different.  It explores how repentance (the appropriate response to sin) and humility (the appropriate response to weakness) both resemble each other and differ, but focuses on how humility will help us bring the grace of Christ to work on our weaknesses and how it can help us turn those weaknesses into strengths.   

While it is clear that sin must be repented of, Ulrich points out that trying to repent of weakness will not work; we can’t promise never to be weak again.  Instead, weakness is an invitation to be humble and turn to God for divine help (grace) and this is how Saints must continue to use the Atonement in their lives.

Ulrich shows we need to learn to discern the difference between when we have sinned and when we have merely been weak.   She lists different kinds of weaknesses and classifies them so that the reader can see how they aren’t sin but are simply part of the mortal condition, such as physical disease, emotional/mental illness, susceptibility to temptation, predispositions we are born with, emotional suffering from trauma, deficits of upbringing and culture, limitations on time and  energy, and so on.

Ulrich also makes distinction between humility and shame, showing that shame can make us “embarrassed before God, turning ‘divine discontent’ over our weaknesses into discouragement or humiliation as we imagine His shaking finger” while humility, on the other hand, informs us of our true relationship with God and our equality with our brothers and sisters.  She does this so that we don’t accidently confuse shame with humility and think shame is a virtue. 

Previous to reading this book, I lived by the notion that weaknesses were something I needed to repent of, and I would wonder why I couldn’t seem to get away from them.  (I have New Years resolutions that I have carried over several years because I felt like I hadn’t made any progress.) 

I loved that Ulrich swept my misconceptions away in the very first chapter with a carefully constructed line of reasoning that helped me to perfectly understand how humility could help me and how humility would help me access the Lord’s grace through the Atonement.   I felt like my knowledge of what Christ’s Atonement could do for me doubled in size and I felt that I learned enough to apply the principles in my life.  I also feel that I understand humility better.  Humility has been extremely hard for me to pin down and get my head around, but by identifying humility as a process, Ulrich has taught me that humility can look like different things, depending on where I am in the process.

I also appreciated Ulrich’s discussion of shame versus guilt.  She named different types of shame and described them in a way that I’m sure would allow most people to be able to self-identify if they felt ashamed of something.  I hadn’t realized that I had so much shame in my life about failure, and Ulrich recommends dissecting our shame as a way to prepare to take steps to combat it. 

Another portion of Ulrich’s book that I found particularly well done was her chapter “When I Am Weak, Then Am I Strong” in which she listed six ways that the Lord can make our weaknesses strong.  None of them were unfamiliar to me, but I had never seen them all collected and connected together before and it gave me a glorious view of the possible ways we can look forward to gaining strength when we humbly turn to God. 

I also liked that Ulrich spent a chapter describing how we can find joy in discovering and living to our strengths because they are a way for us to express our authentic self.  It reminded me that weaknesses aren’t the only part of our character that deserves attention; strengths do too.

Who will appreciate this book

This book will be an absolute godsend to anyone who has struggled to overcome their weaknesses and who have felt discouragement at lack of progress.  I know it was a real eye-opener for me and I am really excited about what I learned from it.  I think I’ve already recommended it to at least six family and friends. (If you’re still wondering whether this book is worth it, you can read a sample chapter of Weakness is Not Sin on the Deseret Book website.)

Favorite Quotes

(I wish I could insert whole chapters, because much of what Ulrich says builds upon itself, but I’ll have to be content with giving you a few paragraphs and lines.)

“We can think we are dealing with weakness when we are really in a state of sin; this is an extremely dangerous position because then we don’t repent and qualify for forgiveness but remain in our sinful state.  We can also think we are dealing with a sin we just can’t seem to repent of when we are really dealing with a weakness; this is also a dangerous position because we can easily become discouraged, give up on ourselves and God, stop trying, give in to sin, or deny ourselves the joy and peace that are rightfully ours as those who are actually clean before the Lord.” (p35)

“It seems sometimes that so much of life is about finding the fine lines between laziness and moderation, between sin and weakness, between the Spirit and our own thoughts, between confidence and pride, between humility and humiliation.  But at least it is a start to know that there is in fact a difference and that the difference is worth exploring.  Trying to discern the real boundaries and edges…is not easy.  We will not always get it right, but we can get closer and closer as we “watch” ourselves and reflect on the results of our choices.” (p41)

“Patience teaches us that this precise moment is tolerable.  As we respond to what this moment requires of us, the future will take care of itself.” (p70)

“…my heart is convicted by the following observation from Hugh Nibley, professor emeritus at Brigham Young University: ‘The [spiritual] gifts are not in evidence today, except for one gift, which you notice the people ask for—the gift of healing. They ask for that with honest intent and with sincere hearts, and we really have that gift, because we are desperate and nobody else can help us….As for these other gifts—how often do we ask for them?  How earnestly do we seek them? We could have them if we did ask, but we don’t. ‘Well, who denies them?’ Anyone who doesn’t ask for them.’” (p71)

“Many of our most important strengths grow out of the seeds of weakness in one way or another.  The puny, crushable seed and the strong, vibrant tree are not different in their essence, only in their stage of development….Our job is not to transform weakness into something completely different but to create the conditions conducive to growth from the first state to the second.  Those conditions include humility and faith.” (p101)

“Sometimes strengths and weaknesses are flip sides of the same coin: What appears as weakness in one context may be strength another context or from another perspective.” (p102)

“…each of us in one way or another can develop strengths to compensate for our weaknesses—strengths that allow us to succeed in unlikely places and against the odds.” (p103)

“The humility that can emerge from seeing our weakness fosters the very virtues that fit us to sit down with God.  In particular, humility about our weakness can teach us charity, the strength Moroni declares is essential to eternal life with God:’Except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father’ (Ether 12:34)”  (p107)

“On more than one occasion when I felt I did not deserve it, [God] has stepped in anyway and made my less-than-best effort or less-than-smartest decision or less-than-noblest motivation work, compensating for my weakness with His strength.” (p109)

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”