In 2 Nephi 4:17, the usually stoic Nephi offers a rare glimpse into his inner personality when he reflects on his spiritual condition and says that such an exercise makes him exclaim, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of mine flesh; my soul greiveth because of mine iniquities.”
Excuse me? Wretched? Iniquities? This is Nephi we’re talking about here, right? While it might be hard to imagine what all the shortcomings Nephi had in mind here as he mentally scourged himself, he was, of course, human, and therefore prone to all the many failings that infect us all. Still, it’s safe to say that he was a pretty decent guy. Considering what we know of his life, we could also assume that he was being a little hard on himself.
Thinking of Nephi and his self-denigrating outburst here illustrates something I’ve noticed in a lot of us, and which I’ve taken the liberty of naming after him, an observation about human nature which I call the Nephi Complex: There is an inverse relationship between how spiritually successful and effective someone is, and how they perceive their own spiritual condition. Or, to put it another way, the more serious and focused someone is on their spiritual condition, the more likely they are to find fault with themselves.
More than once I’ve seen someone who is exhausting themselves in an effort to become Christlike while magnifying their many responsibilities in life, and who will then spiral into a serious funk over some minor, understandable spiritual flaw. (I’m reminded here of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons calling Reverend Lovejoy in the middle of the night, distraught over accidentally swatting a fly, and needing to know how to handle the necessary penance.) Meanwhile, plenty of people in our world are heinously narcissistic and hedonistic, almost to the point of pathology, without a stray thought about any of it. Ironic and sad.
So, to those of you who, like Nephi, are inclined to obsess over the flaws in your spiritual makeup, the “motes in your own eyes,” if you will, may I please offer a kindly word of comfort: chill out, relax. You’re doing great.