1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
2 And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
3 And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
(1 Nephi 16:1-3)
This past week, we had mid-year reviews at work, which meant that I both gave feedback to my employees and received feedback from my manager. It’s never fun to hear about how we need to change, but an important part of a mid-year review is to provide corrective feedback and advice about how to improve. Fortunately, all of my conversations this week went very well, and the guidance seemed to be well received.
Nephi had a more difficult experience with his brothers. As we saw yesterday, after Nephi rebuked them for failing to seek answers through prayer, and after he began to teach them what he had learned, they became teachable and began to ask him questions. However, Nephi did more than provide information. Nephi challenged his brothers to change, to be more righteous. And he warned them that their decisions today would determine their ability to enter the kingdom of God.
This corrective feedback was hard to hear. In the passage above, we read that his brothers complained that it was too much, “more than we are able to bear.” Nephi doesn’t back down. If you were righteous, he says, these words wouldn’t be so hard to hear. But “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the center.”
We all feel guilty sometimes. We all do things that we’re not proud of, and sometimes we’re very good at suppressing the guilty feelings that follow instead of acknowledging that we’ve done wrong and repenting. The last thing we want under those circumstances is for someone else to bring to our attention the very thing we’re trying to ignore and which is causing us discomfort. I think Nephi’s teaching in these verses can be a useful indicator for us: when we bristle at feedback from others, when it hits a nerve, maybe it’s because we have unresolved issues that we need to address. Maybe the feedback has stirred up some guilt that we ought to address instead of ignore. Maybe if we were to repent and overcome our sins, the feedback wouldn’t sting so much.
Today, I will watch how I receive corrective feedback. When it’s hard to hear, I will ask myself if that is an indication of guilt. Is there something I need to repent of, and if I take the time to acknowledge and deal with the guilt, will the sting go away?