At every stage of our lives, we struggle to overcome our weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses. It is important to realize that our weaknesses are to humble us. With humility our weaknesses can make us strong.
Two vital steps can help replace a weakness with a strength: recognizing the problem and being determined to overcome it.
Recognizing Our Weakness
As Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) observed: “It is not an easy thing … to be shown one’s weaknesses. … Nevertheless, this is part of [life], and it is a vital, if painful, part of [the] plan of happiness.”
Some people feel defeated by their personal weaknesses and succumb to despair. Some attempt to hide, ignore, or compensate for their shortcomings because of pain and embarrassment. But recognizing and acknowledging a weakness is a necessary part of overcoming it.
A little girl named Jackie faced a devastating weakness that deeply affected her life—an inability to read. For years she experienced daily rejection and humiliation.
She said, “I was in second grade, and already I knew I was dumb. I just didn’t ever really catch on to reading.” Day after day and year after year the humiliation continued. Jackie said, “I was either told directly I was stupid or was asked, ‘Haven’t I already told you that a thousand times?’ ” She was labeled “lazy” and “a daydreamer.” Comments like these, she said, “caused me such emotional stress that it was like having a curtain drawn across my mind.” Being called upon to read aloud in class was excruciating. “Even when I knew the words, I could not say them,” she recalled. “Tears would well up in my eyes and blur the page.”
Soon Jackie learned to cover for her weakness or avoid situations that would reveal her dreaded secret. When she and her friends visited the local library, she followed their lead in checking out popular mystery books. But even though she carried the books home, she could never read them or join in her friends’ lively discussions about the characters and plots. She also found herself failing nearly every subject in school. Finally, at age 15, she decided to drop out of school and get married.
This decision could have led to more serious problems and a permanent detour from learning. Instead, through the loving, ongoing encouragement of her husband, the watchful care of the Lord, and her own determination, things began to change. “My husband has been my lifesaver,” she explained. “He always treated me like I was the smartest person he ever saw.” Many years later, this mother of eight children graduated from high school—one year before her eldest daughter.
Jackie continued her education beyond high school, but each day was a struggle. “I cried every day, it was so hard,” she said. Her husband gave her priesthood blessings, and a daughter tutored her in algebra, leaving her little notes of encouragement. In faith, Jackie turned to the Lord and prayed for His help. Finally, after years of effort, she received a college degree at age 50. Her weakness ultimately became a great strength as she pursued a career path that became a great blessing to others also struggling to read. The little girl who once thought she was too dumb to read now directs a statewide program that helps children with reading difficulties. 2
The challenging process of facing and overcoming our weaknesses can refine us, make us more profitable servants, and bring us closer to the Savior.
Exercising Determination and Effort
Identifying and recognizing we have weaknesses is the first step in overcoming them. It is only through humility that we do understand that our weaknesses are a gift to us because of the strength we’ll gain in overcoming them. Let’s explore how determination and effort can help us become strong by taking a lesson from planting a new tree.
After the hole is dug and the new tree is carefully placed in it, a wise planter will always stake the tree during it’s initial growth. In other words, the tree is weak and might otherwise break with strong winds. However, the stakes are only used for a short period of time because at some point the tree trunk will need to fight strong winds in order to be strong AND grow straight.
What do you think would happen if the stakes were permanently left to support the tree? The tree trunk would never grow strong because it was being supported by the strength of the stakes and not itself. In time after the stakes are removed, the tree would not withstand the first strong wind.
Our lives are exactly the same. While in our earlier development in new aspects of our life; new job, new business, starting a training and exercise program, we need support of others who are strong. However, in time in order to become strong ourselves, we’ll need the support “stakes” to be removed so we being to strengthen our will through our own determination and effort.
Jackie never quit. She had to exercise much determination and effort. She received the support of her husband and in time was able to begin to read on her own, eventually earning a college degree. With the degree, like the tree, she could withstand the strong winds of adversity and with the strength is now blessing the lives of others.