When I first arrived in Ecuador as a brand-new missionary, the mission president immediately sent me to Otavalo to learn the native language, Quechua, for two weeks. I couldn’t even speak Spanish, and now I needed to learn a whole new language that was completely unrelated to English and Spanish. After a few days the instructor pulled me aside and said, “Elder Hallstrom, you are trying too hard. You are afraid to make a mistake. You need to become like a little child and just speak. You need to make at least 350,000 mistakes in order to speak any language fluently, so you might as well get them out of the way as fast as you can.”
We often go through life unable to progress because we are afraid to make a mistake. However, as we become humble like a little child, it is easier to feel God’s love. As we stumble along making countless errors, we feel the grace that God offers us, and through this process, we gain more confidence in God. We learn that he will always be there for us, which, in turn, gives us more faith to move forward as we struggle through life. We feel free to experience life knowing that we will make mistakes as we strive to learn and do God’s will, but He has it all handled. We realize that He can magnify our feeble imperfect efforts. We realize that God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. This is partially how we come unto Christ to become like him. Grace is the power that creates faith, which enables us to overcome our fears so we can move forward in life to fulfill our divine destiny and glorify God by becoming more like him.
While we strive to prove our worthiness through our works, we generally are attempting to satisfy our subconscious fears instead of expressing our love for God. We feel burdened and fail to realize the blessings of peace and joy that God freely offers us. We either are trying to buy God’s love (validate our worth) or control our salvation because we do not trust―have faith in―God’s grace. The focus remains on us, and we lose sight of the love Jesus offers us. However, when we are motivated by love, our focus is on the Savior and his infinite mercy and goodness, which empower us to do good works. Good works naturally flow from love. A mother nurtures her child out of love, not because she is trying to prove that she is a good mother.
Developing our divine capacity to love should be our goal, not simply to do good works in a vain attempt to satisfy our fears. Proving our worth will not work. We will remain frustrated and may become discouraged and even give up. The yoke of our subconscious fears prevents us from realizing the freedom and energy that flows from God’s love. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30). Let’s not rely on our own feeble arm of flesh but instead rely wholly and alone on the merits of He who is mighty to save. We can then conquer our fears and obtain the blessing of peace and joy offered us in this life. (Zephaniah 3:17; Jeremiah 17:5).
From an eternal perspective, it is not the deeds we perform or the accomplishments we achieve that matter, but the person we become. The Savior taught that when we perform good deeds to be seen of men, we already have our reward. The Lord also warned us that when we “have done many marvelous works” (Matt 7:22–23) in an attempt to earn our reward in heaven, he will profess that he never knew us because we did not love him (See 1 Cor 8:3) and, accordingly, will command us to depart.
Why we do something is important. However, even when our intent is not one hundred percent pure to begin with, we should not discount the benefit of doing good works because our actions influence our thoughts and desires. Actions can have the power to change the heart. Typically, actions flow from emotions, but one of the great secrets of success in life is learning the reality that our rational mind can overrule our emotions, direct our actions, and reverse the process so our actions can change our emotions.
That is why it is good counsel to provide service. Service helps others, but the main benefit comes from the change in our hearts. The mere act of performing service for others can change our emotions regarding those we serve. Ideally, we should strive to do good deeds because we love others and the Lord and not for the selfish motive of proving our worth or earning a reward. But sacrificing for the good of others helps transform our attitudes and eventually our character.