Before he stood in Pharaoh’s court to petition for the release of the Children of Israel, before he parted the Red Sea, and before he brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai’s summit, Moses stood before the Lord and told Him that he wasn’t qualified for the job. Knowing that the Children of Israel would need a leader who could inspire, motivate, and guide them to a land of promise, Moses worried that he lacked the voice such a leader would need to have. Said he to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). When the Lord offered His encouragement, Moses struggled to see past what seemed to him an insurmountable deficiency in his ability to lead the people to freedom. Thus, the Lord gave Moses an alternative solution: “Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well…. And thou shalt speak unto him and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do…. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people” (Exodus 4:14-16). With Aaron’s help and voice, Moses was then able to unite the Lord’s people, confront Pharaoh, cross the Red Sea, and put the Children of Israel on a course to their promised land. Without Aaron’s talent for speaking, Moses might have failed in his prophetic role. Without Moses’ gift for leadership, Aaron might not have ever amounted to more than a maker of pretty speeches. Without the cooperation of those two men with complementary skill sets, the Children of Israel might never have escaped Egyptian slavery.
I think we all face, at one time or another, demands and expectations that dwarf us and leave us, like Moses, feeling like we just don’t have the skills to succeed. Sometimes, I look around and wonder if I shouldn’t leave my talents aside and work on developing the skills of those whose success seems more apparent to me than my own. But the Lord didn’t say to Moses, “Moses, I want you to be a prophet, but unless you learn to speak better, I’m going to have to find someone else,” and He surely wouldn’t turn to me or to you and say, “You know, I really hoped you’d have a successful career, but unless you start figuring out neurosurgery, I’ll have to give that success to someone else.” The Lord called Moses because He knew Moses; He knew the unique gifts that Moses had and the difference he would be able to make. The Lord wasn’t worried about the eloquence that Moses lacked: He was more interested in the faith, obedience, persistence, humility, and wisdom that Moses had in abundance and that he would use in leading the Children of Israel to freedom. Similarly, the Lord isn’t interested in casting us aside because of the traits we don’t have; rather, He aims to help us to become our best selves and to use our best traits in unique service to those around us.
When the Apostle Paul taught the Saints in Corinth, he compared the Church to a body and the individual members to particular body parts. He explained:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.
In a similar way, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.” He also explained that any belief that “each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other…would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father.” That is, while we may all have similar objectives and aspirations, we do not always have the same roles. While our Father in Heaven expects us to keep the commandments, live well, and walk a course back to heaven, He does not expect us all to walk the same path. Of course, there are mandatory stops along the way: the Savior taught, for example, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” demonstrating the necessity of baptism (John 3:5). After baptism, the Lord expects us to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all mankind” (2 Nephi 31:20), but there is more than one way to fulfill that responsibility. One may press forward by organizing humanitarian relief efforts, another may press forward by composing inspiring and uplifting music, and yet another may press forward raising a family according to righteous principles.
We may, at times, look around and judge our gifts—not according to the time we have put into developing them—but according to the gifts we see in others and not in ourselves. We may look to a gifted musician and lament our lack of talent, unaware of the talents we have that the musician lacks. To borrow from Paul, if all were singers, who would care for the sick? Of course, that’s not to say that being a doctor is the best option: if all were doctors, who would teach children to add and subtract? It matters little, I think, what we do as long as we do all we can to use our unique abilities to improve our lives and the lives of those within our sphere of influence. The doctor who cures the critically ill does just as much good, I imagine, as the teacher who inspires a young mind to greatness or as the mother who comforts and quiets her crying child.
We shouldn’t, then, imagine that God wants everyone to conform to a single ideal of character. Rather, a loving Father who knows each of His children perfectly and personally provides counsel and commandments so that we can become our best selves. Especially through the example of His Son Jesus Christ, He has taught us the importance of faith, of hope, and of love. We will never be diminished by keeping the commandments or by following God’s will. When He asks us to control our temper, it isn’t to turn us into docile doormats, but to protect us from anger that would otherwise disrupt our judgment and limit our ability to do good in the world. When He asks us to abandon vice, it is not to excise some essential aspect of who we are, but to remove a habit that holds us back from achieving our potential. Because He loves us, He wants to help us. He will never force us, but He will support us as we strive to be truer to ourselves and to Him.
When Moses had finished his work as prophet, the Lord called Joshua the son of Nun to be Moses’ successor. Over the many years that Moses had led the Children of Israel, he had done many mighty things and had established a divine law among the people. Then Joshua was called to fill the shoes of the head of the Exodus and of Israel’s lawgiver, and, like Moses before, Joshua must have expressed some doubt that he had what it would take to lead the people and to settle the Promised Land. Ever kind, the Lord did not reject Joshua because he was different from Moses. Instead, the Lord encouraged His new servant, saying, “[A]s I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1: 5-6). It is my testimony that our Father in Heaven knows us each as we are. He understands our thoughts and feelings, and He knows our aspirations and reservations. Beyond that, He knows our potential, and He knows how to help us to reach it. He expects us to work hard to be our very best selves by developing our talents and refining our skills. Just as He blessed Moses for his strengths and promised to uphold Joshua for his, He will bless us as we exercise our gifts for good. Surely, as He was with Moses, so He will be with us: He will not fail us, nor forsake us. So let us be strong and of a good courage, ever relying on the Lord for help to be our very best.