Receiving praise and compliments can be very satisfying, but it can also be a little uncomfortable and awkward. It’s like eating those really sour candies. When you first put it in your mouth your face starts to contort into unflattering positions, and you wonder why you decided to eat it the candy in the first place, but after the sourness wears off leaving you with the pure taste of sugar, you quickly forget that moment of discomfort and savor the sweetness. Craving more, you quickly pop another one into your mouth only to question your judgment the moment it hits your taste buds. It’s uncomfortable, but you enjoy it. When someone gives you a compliment, you may enjoy the sweetness of it while simultaneously cringing from the sourness of wondering if it is right to be enjoying the recognition.
“As God works through us,” John C. Pingree Jr. said, “the adversary may tempt us to take credit for any accomplishments. However, we can emulate the Savior’s humility by deflecting personal praise and glorifying the Father (General Conference October 2017).”
Does that mean that receiving praise is wrong? To emulate the Savior’s humility should we always deflect recognition and never take credit for any of our accomplishments but instead give all the credit to God?
The other day I was listening to a podcast on LDS Perspectives where Brad Wilcox was the guest (LDS Perspectives Podcast. Episode 2: What is Grace? Brad Wilcox). The host began by asking Brad Wilcox what it was like for him to have his BYU devotional “His Grace Is Sufficient” so well received by so many.
Nearly every week, all year long, BYU holds a weekly devotional. These devotionals are recorded and archived and made available for the public to watch, read, and listen to. There are over 2,000 devotionals, 861 speakers, and 70 years worth of devotionals on the BYU Speeches website. When you go to the website, at the top of the page is the option to filter through the 2,000 speeches by narrowing it down to the top 30 “Most Viewed” speeches of the month. Within that group of 30, you’ll find Brad Wilcox’s speech His Grace is Sufficient. You can also filter through the many speeches by finding the ones that are the most viewed speeches of the year, and in that group of speeches, you’ll see Brad Wilcox His Grace is Sufficient. And if you were to sort through the speeches by those that have been viewed the most of all time, you’ll find among the few, Brad Wilcox His Grace is Sufficient. In short, it’s a very popular well-known, loved address.
So when the host asked Brad Wilcox what it was like for him to be a part of something that is loved by so many and has received so much recognition and praise, I was very curious to hear how he was going to respond. Was he going to say something like, “Oh, that old talk? That wasn’t me. That was the Spirit. I had nothing to do with that.”
When Sheri Dew was reviewing some of the manuscripts with Gordon B. Hinkley for his biography, he said: “I am sick, sick, sick of reading about Gordon Hinckley. There is just too much about Gordon Hinckley in this manuscript.” Then he continued by saying, “Adulation is poison. Adulation has ruined many a good man and woman, and I don’t want this book to portray me as something I’m not (in the introduction of the biography of Gordon B. Hinckley).”
And there’s also King Benjamin’s encouragement to “always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness (Mosiah 4:11).” At first glance, his words seem to further support the idea that deflecting all praise and recognition is the “Christian thing” to do.
Is it wrong to accept credit and praise and compliments for accomplishments and good things that we do? Is it bad to be recognized? Is it prideful to celebrate our own successes?
In an interview with Brad Wilcox, I asked him if it’s possible to be humble while accepting recognition.
He started off by saying, “I think we sometimes mistake meekness for weakness. But it’s different. Meek means you’re strong, but you’re also teachable, and you’re willing to serve.”
We are willing to serve but also anxious to brush aside compliments by pointing out a few of our flaws to “neutralize” the praise. Bro. Wilcox points out that “To say ‘I’m not strong’ means you’re not acknowledging the strength that Christ is willing to give you. Christ has an end in mind, and he is making us into something, and that depends on our willingness to go there.”
So what is Christ-like humility? Brad Wilcox continues, “Humility says I have something to contribute too. God sent me to earth with a mission to perform. I can acknowledge that I have a part to play here, but it’s to God’s glory. Let your light shine. Let it shine that people will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven, not just so that they’ll see your good works and so that you can get a Humanitarian of the Year award, but so that God can be glorified.”
We don’t measure the depth and quality of our humility by the quantity of our self-sabotage, self-deprecation, and self-loathing. Rather, remembering our nothingness is about coming forward and offering up the two fish and five loaves that you have because of a sincere desire to help feed the multitude. Stepping forward to offer your very best efforts in hopes of making a difference, you might confront the reality that all the fish and bread you have will not feed even a portion of the multitude. But remembering your nothingness and the greatness of God at that moment is not about giving up and allowing discouragement to poison your heart. As Stephen R. Covey reminded us, Nothingness is not the same as worthlessness. “Nothing means powerless” (see The Divine Center, 172-173). In remembering your nothingness, you willingly give everything you have to the Lord knowing that you alone are unable to feed everyone, but trusting that with God, the multitude will be taken care of. It is by His power that your fish and bread will feed the multitude, and in the end, you are left with more fish and bread than you started with. And when someone from that multitude turns to you and thanks you personally for sharing your food with them, you can respond with a sincere and humble, “You’re welcome.” And by saying “you’re welcome” you’re not taking all the credit and glory from God. It was by God’s power that the multitude was fed, and God showed His power through you because you were willing to do what you could. Remembering your nothingness is having a clear perspective of the part you played and the part that God played. And I believe that God wants us to feel a sense of satisfaction and happiness with our sincere and genuine effort to do good.
How did Brad Wilcox respond when he was being acknowledged for his monumental BYU Speech? He replied, “It’s been satisfying to know that the message is reaching people…it makes me happy to know that the talk is ending up in the hands of those who need it most.”
Responding to and receiving praise isn’t about crafting the right words so that you can eloquently articulate your humility and God’s greatness, it’s about a reverent awareness of God’s power in your life.
LDS Perspective Podcast used with permission