Discovering Your Divine Individuality
I know I’m a little weird. All my life I have enjoyed being an individual who is different from those around me. I am over 6 feet tall, but I still wear heels so I can be even taller. As a college volleyball player, on long flights to away games I would sit cramped in my seat doing my calculus homework while my teammates teased me for being a nerd. I still find “your mom” jokes hilarious and will laugh loud enough that someone a mile away can hear. I don’t know anyone exactly like me, and I truly enjoy it.
You might think, “She is crazy! Who wants to stick out all the time? Isn’t it nice to just fit in sometimes?” Whether you want to be different or you feel you are too different, it’s okay. We are supposed to be different. As I think about working toward perfection—in this life and the next—I worry I may lose some of the personality traits that allow me to be me. If we all end up perfect, kind, faithful, obedient, and knowledgeable, won’t we all be the same? Wouldn’t it be kind of like the vision of Syndrome, the villain from The Incredibles, who says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be”?
Now, of course none of us will be perfect in this lifetime. But as I continue to work toward this goal, I want to keep my sense of self. How can I keep my individuality while striving for perfection?
Out of Many, One
Our gifts—those things that come easily to us—are part of what makes us individuals. Our innate capabilities help define who we are and are often related to those things we are naturally inclined to enjoy. In addition, we all have different experiences in life, which result in an infinite number of perspectives.
To attain my mechanical-engineering degree, as a senior I had to design and build something to solve a given problem. My group was tasked with creating a cheap machine to test the strength of objects under a dynamic load, or the force on an object that changes over time, increasing and decreasing back and forth.
And so as a team of senior mechanical-engineering students, all of whom had taken the same courses and had the same collegiate educational background, we began brainstorming ideas to solve this problem. It became immediately clear that the variety of our life experiences was essential to a good design.
One student whose parents owned a business melting metals and creating art had ideas associated with changing the temperature, which would cause expansion and contraction, thus applying an oscillating load. Another student, who enjoyed sailing, discussed systems of pulleys that could change a one-directional loading motion into a rotational loading motion. A few of us rode bikes, and we realized that the rotational motion of the wheels allows for dynamic loading on the wheels as they rotate. With a number of other ideas, and after much discussion, we eventually settled on a disk system in which the rotation would provide the dynamic part of the process.
We moved on to the mathematical calculations, computer drawings, prototyping, and report writing. In these stages of the process, our individuality in preference became clear. I quite enjoy math and took the bulk of that responsibility. Although I can create computer drawings, one of my teammates was not only better at it but also truly enjoyed creating them, so he put his main efforts there. The same was true for building and writing.
Together we created a cheap, working machine that applied the necessary dynamic loads to the objects to be tested. None of us alone would have come up with the final design we used. Individually we would not have been as successful or enjoyed the work as much. While we all needed to be qualified mechanical engineers, it was absolutely necessary for us to truly be individuals with different ideas, stemming from different life experiences and different preferences.
This important aspect of who we are—our individuality—comes from God. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
Some [may] believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities. . . .
The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples. [“Four Titles,” Ensign, May 2013]
We are supposed to be different! We were created as such for our individual growth and the growth of our friends and neighbors. Our individuality began before we were here on earth and will continue on after we leave. We can—and should—keep our good personality traits and remember those experiences that allow us to have a different perspective so that we can empathize with and encourage others.
Christlike and Still Ourselves
If being different from one another is so wonderful and by divine design, then are there attributes we should change? Definitely. For example, I personally feel a bit of road rage at times. I would maybe call it “road frustration,” since I am easily annoyed by people who are going slower than I am or are not immediately taking off when a light turns green. I could just say road frustration is part of who I am, so it is okay to get mad, but I don’t think that is the best solution. My quickness to anger is not an essential attribute of my eternal individuality.
This brings me to my second set of questions: What is perfection and what attributes define it? Do we have to be the same to be perfect, or can we be different? As we are changing and growing to become like our Heavenly Father, there are some things about us that will become similar—such as no one getting mad at each other on the road, which is probably a good thing. But I highly doubt that we will all grow to attain the same sense of humor or love of classical literature or desire to run a marathon just because we are striving for perfection.
To attain perfection we must follow the only man who lived on earth who was able to do so: our Savior, Jesus Christ. Preach My Gospel outlines nine important Christlike attributes: faith in Jesus Christ, hope, charity and love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience (see chapter 6, “How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes,” pp. 115–23). As we further develop these attributes, we become more Christlike, and thus more perfect.
And yet, teaches Elder Uchtdorf, as we become more perfect, we actually become more individual and our divine self emerges: “While the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same” (“Four Titles”).
During our lives here on earth, we can deepen our understanding of who we are as divine sons and daughters of God, heirs to a throne. And as each of us becomes perfected, we allow ourselves to be reminded of who we were and who we can become. That identity does not belong to the person next to you; it is the identity of the person in your seat. He or she has your adventurous nature, your quick wit, or your dramatic flair. He or she is you. No matter how faithful, hopeful, charitable, virtuous, knowledgeable, patient, humble, diligent, and obedient you become, you will never, ever become your neighbor. This knowledge brings me peace, because I want to be me and keep those personality traits that define me, but I also want to eventually be perfect and have Christlike traits as well.
I have compiled a list of a few personality traits that you may have but that are not necessarily tied to perfection: competitive, vivacious, rustic, frugal, spontaneous, dignified, dreamy, intense, sentimental, daring, stoic, clever, high-spirited, playful, independent, patriotic, charismatic, relaxed, reserved, earthy, outspoken, breezy, dramatic, calm, artful, venturesome, logical, warm, observant, witty, sociable, original, serious, systematic, romantic, imaginative, and methodical.
See if you can find some of your traits. Some of my own personality traits from the list are competitive, independent, systematic, playful, relaxed, and high-spirited. This list contains some personality traits that can set us apart while still allowing us to be similar in the traits that make us more Christlike.
Unity Through Differences
Here in mortality, with our different physical and mental capacities and our obvious imperfections, our differences are very clear. But what about perfect beings, those who have developed the attributes I mentioned earlier and have gained all knowledge? Are they the same?
The only examples of perfect beings who are different I can think of are the members of the Godhead.
The Godhead consists of three distinct Beings: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Are they the same? It has been stated many times that the Godhead is one in purpose. Nephi wrote:
And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. [2 Ne. 31:21]
And Christ taught:
For behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one. [3 Ne. 11:27]
It is clear that the Godhead is one, but we know this means one in purpose, not one in being. Each member of the Godhead is a distinctly different individual who has a distinct personality. We can know this because we can know each of Them individually.
Do we know our Heavenly Father—not just as a member of the Godhead but as our Father? As a Divine Being who wants us to join Him in glory and exaltation? I do. I know my Heavenly Father as a loving, caring, overseeing Father who is there for me when I need His strength and guidance. He encourages me, supports me, and gently lifts me when I fall. As we build a relationship with Him through intent prayer and honest action on His words, we come to know Him as our Father. My Heavenly Father is real. He is an individual. And He cares for me.
Do we know our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother who has provided a way for us to return to our Heavenly Father? There are many stories of Jesus Christ’s life and teachings throughout the scriptures, so we have many opportunities to get to know Him and His personality. One of my favorite personality traits of Christ is His immense love and care for the one.
In Matthew 15, after Christ preached along the coast, a Caananite woman whose daughter had a devil pled with Him. Initially, Christ says, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But when he saw the woman’s great faith, he responded to her petition and the “daughter was made whole from that very hour” (Matt. 15:28).
This is not an isolated incident. Throughout the scriptures and in His interactions with each of us, He thinks of us as individuals He must walk alongside and lead. I believe His concern for individuals is a part of His personality. He cares for everyone in a broad sense, but He also cannot help but pause for one in pain. This is His personality. While one might expect this of someone who has felt all our pains, it was true of Him even before He could empathize with us through His suffering in Gethsemane. And it was true of Him after His suffering, when, in unimaginable pain as He was about to be led to His execution, He paused to heal the ear Peter had smitten off one of the servants of the high priests.
My Savior loves me. He loves the one. The Atonement that He performed has affected me. It has brought me forgiveness and strength and has eased my pain. I know that He, as an individual, loves me, as an individual. Although He is one in purpose with our Heavenly Father, He is a distinct, separate Being with a different personality. I am honored to call Him my Brother.
Finally, do we know the Holy Ghost? He, unlike God and Jesus Christ, is a being of spirit, which immediately and clearly separates Him from Them. But He also has a different role in the Godhead. He is that Spirit which brings us truth and peace. President Spencer W. Kimball said:
He is a reminder and will bring to our remembrance the things which we have learned. . . . He is a testifier and will bear record to us of the divinity of the Father and the Son. . . . He is a teacher and will increase our knowledge. He is a companion and will walk with us, inspiring us all along the way. [The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 23]
I know the Holy Ghost is a distinct Being who has testified, inspired, strengthened, and walked beside me as a companion. He is not my Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ. He is the Comforter, and He is my friend.
Talk about a “dream team!” These three perfect and distinct individuals work together “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Each has His own role, and it is essential that They be different to accomplish Their goal. In fact, what would be the need to emphasize Their “oneness” throughout the scriptures if Their perfection had already made Them the same?
Learning to Value Diversity
One of my research areas provides a good example of sameness in purpose while still being different as individuals. My specialty within mechanical engineering is called fluid dynamics. This is the study of the movement of liquids and gases, such as the air flowing around your car as you drive or the water streaming through the Hoover Dam to create power. Specifically, I research how water behaves on superhydrophobic surfaces.
A water droplet that falls onto a smooth, hydrophilic (water-attracting) surface sticks to the surface. A water droplet that falls onto a hydrophobic (water-repelling) surface bounces off of the surface. When water droplets fall onto superhydrophobic surfaces of different shapes, they will bounce or roll off the surface, taking up dirt and leaving dirt-free streaks. For this reason we refer to these surfaces as self-cleaning. I am sure you can think of many applications in which this would be beneficial. Imagine never needing to clean your shower, perhaps, or always getting the last drop of ketchup out of the bottle. However, my point is not how cool these superhydrophobic surfaces are—although they are very cool—but how they are made.
There are two important components: first, the surface must be water repellent, and second, the surface must include a texture on the micron level or smaller. The result is that water will rest only on top of the microstructures, causing the water to bead up almost entirely into a sphere, thereby enhancing its ability to roll and bounce.
In our lab we make these surfaces by chemically etching silicon wafers and then coating them with Teflon, a chemical used on cookware. Other researchers at BYU create superhydrophobic surfaces by growing carbon nanotubes about 100 times smaller than the microstructures. There is also a commercial coating that has microbeads embedded in a liquid spray. These surfaces occur in nature as well, such as on certain leaves. There are many more ways to create superhydrophobic surfaces, but all of the methods allow for the same properties: they have a microstructure and are chemically water repellent, and thus they are all self-cleaning. They are the same in purpose, but each has been created using a different process and each looks different at the microscopic level.
One final example of working toward perfection while keeping our individuality is the current First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These three great men have wonderful yet different personalities. We can know this by the way they speak, the stories they share from their lives, the things they are most passionate about, and the way they interact with each other and with us.
But on Jan. 16 of this year, they spoke to the members of the Church, united as the new First Presidency, in an unprecedented broadcast from the Salt Lake Temple. President Nelson said:
As a new presidency, we want to begin with the end in mind. . . . The end for which each of us strives is to be endowed with power in a house of the Lord, sealed as families, faithful to covenants made in a temple that qualify us for the greatest gift of God—that of eternal life.
Our new First Presidency is made up of three amazing individuals who serve together as one and whose purpose is to help us make and keep sacred covenants. Because they are using their different personalities to work toward the same goal, they are a strong team.
Appreciating Our Individuality
One day, as a kid, I was out in the garage trying to find something to do. I noticed a few 2-by-4 pieces of wood and thought, “I can build a shelf! I know what a shelf looks like.” I asked my parents if I could use the leftover wood.
I started by putting the bottom next to the side and hammering in a nail. Then I placed the top next to the side and hammered in another nail. After hammering a few more nails, and after a few times hammering the garage floor, I had made a “shelf.” It was bad. It sat at an angle unless you touched it—in which case it fell over. I knew it was not a good shelf, but I was still proud of it. I had never built anything from raw materials before. I enjoyed making it, I enjoyed learning, and I was proud that I had tried.
Sometimes my choices in life feel like that first shelf. As I faithfully act to try to improve a Christlike quality in myself, I may get it all wrong. I am sure more than a few of you can relate to attempting to be obedient by reading your scriptures at night, only to find yourself waking up on them the next morning. Our first attempt will not be our best attempt. But we must try—we must act—or we will never be able to build on that first, likely failed, experience. Our next attempt will be better, and the next one better after that, until we are perfect in that thing.
This first foray into engineering was not a success, but I have built on that experience significantly. And although I would not say I am perfect at engineering, I would say I am much more proficient. I had to have that first experience, and I had to act to guide me to the end result. As I have grown as an engineer, I have expanded my knowledge and capabilities such that I have become more diverse than when I knew so little. I can design and build any type of shelf now, whereas when I first tried, I could only build a wobbly structure that might stab you with nails.
As we become more perfect, more like Christ, we become more individual. We begin to comprehend our eternal nature. We recognize truth and are able to think more deeply about it, which leads us to gain a better understanding of ourselves and others and thus become stronger individuals. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good” (The Great Divorce [New York: Macmillan, 1946], p. 6, preface, paragraph 1).
As our knowledge grows and our hearts change on our quest to be more like Christ, we do not lose our individuality but come to know our true, eternal, and individual selves. You are, and always will be, the one—the individual whom Christ so regularly spoke of finding and saving. But your neighbor is also the one. Your neighbor is different but also growing to be more like Christ and himself or herself, as you are doing the same.
I pray we can support each other in this quest of perfection and individuality as we work together to build the kingdom of God.
Julie Crockett, BYU associate professor of mechanical engineering, delivered this devotional on March 6, 2018. The address can be found in a variety of formats, including video, at speeches.byu.edu.
Opening photo by Bradley Slade. Photo composition by Julia Cottam.