Since last fall our household has been navigating a substantial disappointment. In the aftermath of our experience, amidst the agony of confusion, self-doubt, and just plain hurt, I feel unsettled about my ability to trust myself and anyone else, including God. As I acquaint myself with this rift that has torn my spirituality to shreds, I comfort my soul with the assurance that there is no animosity directed at me. There is no condescension or judgement aimed my way and this moment I speak of didn’t represent a “lesson” or a “trial” that I had to endure. Rather, it’s an experience and it will be what I make it of it. And it doesn’t have to be all sorted out right now. I believe someday I will I look back on this stretch of my life and really respect the substantial work that I’m attempting to do in settling my spirit so that it can begin to heal. Even now, with a small amount of space, a bit more heartbreak and further introspection, I can sometimes see these months as maybe as a prodding, a gentle nudge. It’s surprising, even to me, that moments have the potential to move from ‘near death blow’ status to ‘gentle nudge’ in the space of a few months. In addition to simple time, I think a lot of that has to do with not berating myself or forcing meaning but rather trying to wait compassionately with an eye towards recognizing the hand of God while the rest of my story unfolds.
All around it seems there are needs that beg to be acknowledged with at least a loving outreach. During stretches where my own time is scarce, I am often left to stand by and watch a friend move with feeble knees, or see a sister inch forward under the weight of a suffocating burden. My inclination is to reach out and respond to these sometimes silent petitions and it is natural for me to preface these thoughts with “I should call ……” or “I need to…….” Inevitably, as days wear on and my missed opportunity tally increases, I begin to feel the guilty weight of charity. I don’t actually believe that it was ever intended to be this way but I am woefully familiar with the underbelly of this magnificent beast. Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to change my phrasing to “I want to…” thus giving myself credit for the myriad good deeds that happen only in my mind :). Instead of carrying around burdening guilt for an idea I never acted on, I try to remind myself of 1 thing:
My willingness and desire count for something. Something substantial, and a generous spirit (even without actions to back it up) is acceptable to heaven. King Benjamin, an exemplary leader in the Book of Mormon, was speaking to his people about the management of their resources. In this particular verse, money was the object of his example. He asked the people to maintain their generosity regardless of their ability to act on it. “I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” I believe this idea applies to all of our resources, including time. And expressing the thought this way feels like an acknowledgement, almost a prayer, of a desire to help.
The surprisingly beautiful thing is that in seemingly impossible situations, sometimes a way opens up and I am actually able to offer some small token of love or regard. It may be different than the action I’d thought up but these seemingly miraculous opportunities seem like a little window to heaven, opened just for me and another. They fill me with hope. Hope that even a “desire” to lend myself to a situation or another soul can trigger enlightenment and enabling power. Hope that my efforts, sometimes sluggish and sometimes spot on, are acceptable and appreciated. Hope in occasionally finding that what heaven wants and what I want are the very same thing. Hope that the Savior’s methods can be learned and understood. And hope that maybe the fleeting times when I feel tethered to Deity for those few short moments or hours are, as my friend Anne Marie points out, a beautifully realistic goal for this mortal life.
On Saturday, we welcomed a fluffy red-haired, four-legged soul into our family. We love her sweet little dark eyed face and we’re getting to know her better. For instance, apparently she sleeps much better with a nightlight. Who knew a $2.50 blue light could buy me 7 straight hours of whine-free sleep!? As we’ve been transitioning, I’ve faced some struggles. Less with the puppy and more with my personal capacity for patience. As I’ve tried to train our nipping puppy with the help of my preschool baby, I’ve been forced to remind myself that transitions take time. It takes time to acquaint oneself with the personality of someone/something else. And as loving as we are, it takes time for trust to develop. And when you transition, relationships shift and move and it takes time for the dust to settle. So instead of saying “I am just not patient enough for this” I am trying to say “I can be really impatient sometimes and I’m learning.” Why is it so hard to see oneself as a work in progress?
I’ve been thinking about the what a gift it is to be able to learn from my own choices. Along those lines, I feel much more inclined to do something if I’ve chosen it (as opposed to feeling obligated to it). I think this has to do with the freedom of my soul. The trouble is, Christianity has been around for quite a while and at this point there are an awful lot of things that I can feel obliged to add to my life in my efforts to seek the Savior. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the (missed) opportunities that I begin to feel resentful and frustrated because it seems impossible to keep up with all the things I “need” to be doing or “should” be doing to be close to Him. Doubtless there are essentials that form the bedrock of our personal relationships with Him but it’s easy to tack on a bunch of extra things that can really burden us during certain seasons of our lives. I wonder if that’s the biggest ploy that the adversary has, making our ascent to the Savior feel obligatory instead of voluntary. Because an forced approach feels different than a voluntary approach. And with Him, it has always been voluntary. So many of the connections I make with Him happen in simple, everyday moments where I’m earnestly trying to be present in whatever I’m doing. I end up seeing Him in a creation or a connection or in the face of someone else. He says over and over again, that we simply have to desire Him, seek Him and He will be there. The more I feel the drag of all the things I should or need to do to approach Him, the more I feel like it’s this future, distant goal and I will never get there. But He’s always ready to be found in whatever moment we’re in right?
When it comes to motivation, I don’t believe guilt is inspiring. In fact, if anything, it can be kind of immobilizing. Sure, it may come in handy for making course corrections after big-ticket indiscretion but in terms of day-to-day self talk, guilt is toxic and burdensome. And yet most of us are committed to strapping it on each day, carrying it with us wherever we go and inviting it into any endeavor we undertake. I think that we can allay some of our guilt by giving ourselves credit for taking part in the journey of life and the process of improvement. Our quick-paced culture has very little patience for anything long-term so when it comes to personal development or spirituality, it may seem that our progress is excruciatingly slow. As a result, we may have a hard time exercising compassion with ourselves for what turns out to be very normal and timely development. Here’s an idea on how to add a little personal patience to your day:
Instead of saying: “I have never been good at __________” (although I have already told you how I feel about the word never), “I am not good at______” or “You’re so good at __________ and I’m just not,” say instead “I am still learning to__________” or “I am practicing _________”
It’s so important to remember that individual development is supposed to last a lifetime. That’s the idea. So next time your shortcomings seem to be swallowing you up, try to put them in context and remember you’re living just one moment out of many in your life. And most of your moments are probably pretty good so think about the beauty in you, build on that goodness and feel confidence in the process of personal progression.