The other day on Facebook I saw a quote that somebody had posted related to the way we should live our lives. You know, one of those things in a cheezy font with a soothing picture. It went like this, "The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.”
It is an interesting idea, and probably worth looking at a little bit more closely.
First of all, I don't really think that our life is meant to be some never-ending bliss. I don't think think that God intends for us to be uptight and unhappy all the time, of course, but years ago Elder Maxwell coined the term "divine discontent" that I find very apropos. To me, divine discontent is like the voice of Mufasa whispering from beyond the veil, "You are more than you have become . . . remember!" It is through our falling down and rising again, our righteous ambitions, our trying just a little bit harder to love a little bit more that we remember who we are. Sometimes this causes a little bit of stress. After all, isn't stress that gap between where we are and where we want to be?
Don't get me wrong. I think we need to be very honest about running-faster-than-we-have-strength. I am very bad at this. But there is a big difference between accepting that we cannot affect the outcome of every situation and ceasing to try affecting any outcome at all.
I have always been a Type A personality. Here is some insight into that: I told Plantboy the other day that it was going to a huge adjustment for me to begin using my Franklin-Covey planner as an app in my iPad instead of a physical book, because I had been carrying one for 25 years. He looked at me a bit askance . . . 25 years? Yes, that's right. I started carrying my first planner when I was 13. It is in my nature to attempt to control nearly everything.
I went through a phase in my 20's when I hated this about myself. Everyone seemed more relaxed. More happy. More able to go with the flow. Etc. Etc. I was convinced that it was this thing about me that had broken off my first engagement. I sometimes feared it would prevent me from ever finding happiness in my marriage. Of course, this self-loathing was exacerbating my stress.
One day, after a very long talk with my mother, I had a revelation of sorts. It seemed that the thing to do was embrace my personality as it was instead of forever trying to change it. And something remarkable happened. I saw that it was this part of me that had given me the ability to work very hard as a missionary, to finish college and be so successful in my chosen career. It was this thing that allowed me to juggle so much and help others. It was this part of me that made me reliable and dependable. I accepted the level of stress that came with who I am fundamentally, and began to understand what it takes for me to manage that stress.
Back to the control issue. After a YW program I was a part of some time ago, a woman in our group (decidedly not Type A) spoke with a great deal of enthusiasm after the project was over about how God always steps up and makes these things good. Her comment gave me great pause as I thought about all the hours I (and others) had put in to make the program successful. While I agreed with her that the Lord had sanctified our performance and had blessed us with the Holy Ghost that night, I didn't agree that God would have done so had our preparation been faulty, or less than all we had to give.
So over the years I've learned that I can control the level of service I give to a thing . . . and that the more I'm willing to give the better it often turns out. Particularly if I have served prayerfully. I have learned that great and loving volunteers can make a whole school, and by extension a community, a better place. I've learned that I have a large deal of control (or at least influence) in my own home regarding a whole host of things--from my children's nutrition to their spiritual insights to their attitudes. I have a lot of control over my husband's happiness. Their behavior out "there" reflects pretty well what we are doing in here. And yet, keeping a clean home, making sure homework is done, driving them places, attending all our church meetings, fixing healthy meals (you know the drill) causes stress and wears me down. Perhaps this is my basic personality. Perhaps it is just life.
The idea that I could somehow have less stress by giving up on a lot of this because I cannot control how my children turn out is ludicrous to me. When it comes to it, I cannot make their choices for them, but I can help them to come from a place where they understand fully the paths in front of them and understand about revelation that will lead them to the right path. On paper it looks like such a simple thing. In practice, creating the childhood and community you want for your children is a daily battle between what is easy and what is right. Where you are, and where you want to be. It is stressful. I wonder if it is supposed to be.
If you haven't yet read "Letter to a Doubter" by Terryl Givens, you really should. This excerpt occurs near the end,
"The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. Fortunately, in this world, one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.
"The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we “get it right.” It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet’s image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not."
More than any other thing I've ever read that helps me to understand what God meant when he told Abraham that we would be "proved herewith." It isn't a test just to mess with us because God is powerful enough to do it. It is our chance to demonstrate our deepest desires and yearnings. Our choices are a chance to reveal our innermost self. Our choice to faith, to action, to attempt to exert some influence on the world around us when all the logic and darkness and natural-man-ness says it is just easier to give up control and be stress-free.
I choose action. And for me that means an acceptance of stress. For me to be otherwise is to shut that voice from the other side of the veil that is constantly calling me to look up and remember.