"Let those be chosen that are worthy." (D&C 105:35)
I recently received an e-mail from Dona Hessling, a sister in the Dortmund Germany Stake. She notes problems in translating various words from English into German. Specifically, Sister Hessling has been "confronted with the word 'worthy.'" She notes, "We must be worthy to partake of the sacrament or be considered worthy to enter into the temple. Sometimes I have the feeling of having to be perfect before I am completely worthy." Sister Hessling wonders how to think about being worthy in connection with our efforts toward self-improvement.
The word worthy comes from the root to turn or to be turned. The Oxford English Dictionary defines worthy as "of sufficient worth or value; sufficiently good; suitable; fit; appropriate." Worthy also means "deserving of something by reason of merit or excellence." Further, to be worthy is to be "distinguished by good qualities, entitled to honor or respect; having a high moral standard."
Worthy clearly does not mean perfect, but it does mean being turned in the right direction and moving forward as best we can. Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave a wonderful talk in April 1989 on exactly this subject.
"Over the past number of weeks I have had some conversations that have made me ponder the meaning of the word worthy," he said.
Elder Ashton notes that often we are hindered by self-judgment, that we unfairly penalize ourselves by concluding, for example, because of some perceived imperfections we are not worthy for a temple recommend. Or that we are not worthy to go on a mission. People who make this judgment are making their own determination about worthiness. ... "We do not have to be hindered by self-judgment," he said. "All of us have the benefit and added wisdom of a bishop and a stake president to help us determine our worthiness and, if necessary, to assist us to begin the process of becoming worthy to accomplish whatever goal we wish to achieve. When we take it upon ourselves to pass self-judgment and simply declare, 'I am not worthy,' we build a barrier to progress and erect blockades that prevent our moving forward. We are not being fair when we judge ourselves. A second and third opinion will always be helpful and appropriate."
Elder Ashton continues, "It occurs to me that there are probably hundreds or even thousands who do not understand what worthiness is. Worthiness is a process, and perfection is an eternal trek. We can be worthy to enjoy certain privileges without being perfect."
Elder Ashton quotes George Q. Cannon: "Now, this is the truth. We humble people, who feel ourselves sometimes to be so worthless, so good-for-nothing, we are not so worthless as we think. There is not one of us but what God's love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save and that He has not devised means to save."Elder Ashton concludes, "As we measure our worthiness, let us no longer put limitations upon ourselves. Rather, let us use those strengths and powers that are available to make us worthy to gain great heights in personal development. Thus we will reap the joy that comes to those who desire to improve and move forward with determination and effectiveness and they practice self-discipline and refuse to judge themselves as unworthy."
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org