Sunday, September 25, 2011

Letting Go

 Of all the things I have learned in life, I have yet to learn this  lesson. I can't let go of things, specifically character flaws. I long to keep them just a little longer before I turn them over or give them up.

While serving as a missionary in Missouri, people would often tell me about their trials in life and then say, "But I've just got to let go and let God." I love that idea and admire those with such faith. I am not one of such strength of character.

Jesus taught his disciples that, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."

Mustard seed is tiny. Miniscule. It grows into a fairly good-sized bush, by the way. I think there is a double meaning to that scripture. First, if we have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, we can experience great blessings and miracles. Second, if we have faith like a mustard seed, that is to say that we believe that we can become something greater than we are, we will grow beyond our capacity. We will grow into something we could not imagine to be possible.

I love having my life planned out. I know exactly what courses to take over the next year and a half, what I want to accomplish during that time, where I want to go for grad school, what I want to do after grad school, and so on. There have been times in my life when Heavenly Father said, "Nope. That's not the right path." Frustrated me to no end.

Example: My freshman year of college, I decided I was going to be a high school history teacher. I had everything figured out to do that. I walked into the advisement office to declare my major, and as I walked out, I was struck by the most unsettled feeling. It was like Heavenly Father saying, "I have something different in mind. You need to talk to me about this one." Ugg. And so, I was almost the world's shortest history teaching major.

Lately, I've been learning a lot about letting go and letting God. A lot of it has to do with being humble. We can't have one foot in our will and the other foot in our Heavenly Father's will. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis illustrates this idea beautifully. Writing as if it was Christ speaking, he says:

"Give me all of you! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and    so much of your work. I want YOU! ALL OF YOU! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart."   

Letting go of our will requires that we swallow our pride. When we are filled with pride, we cannot accept God's will over our own. Trust me. Thankfully, Heavenly Father doesn't force us to accept his will. He waits for us to come around. "Yea, he that truly humbleth himself and repenteh of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed -- yeah, much more blessed  than they who are compelled to be humble..."

It may take some time for me to get to the point of being able to swallow my pride and admit that I can't do it on my own, that I am indeed powerless, and that my life has become unmanageable. I don't know that I'll learn how to completely let go and leave things to God for a long time. Perhaps it's due to a lack of faith or an abundance of pride. 

Often, I feel like the person in the poem in the picture at the top of the post -- I get really frustrated when things aren't going according to my plan. When things take too long, or I don't like the outcome, I often ask why it was that way. Lovingly and gently, but with a kind rebuke, Heavenly Father replies, "What could I do? You wouldn't let go." And so, that's where I am. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Just Want to Be OK

We each have individual trials, struggles, and sufferings. It's a part of life. Just like birth, puberty, taxes, and death. It comes with the territory. Lately, however, I've been contemplating the purpose of these experiences. Perhaps it is done in preparation for what I will go through in Romania. Perhaps it is just my thinking and over-analysis of said thinking. Who knows? Here are some of the conclusions I have come to.

1) We cannot entirely separate ourselves from our life events. Everything we experience becomes a part of our essence, a part of our soul. In describing the character Platon Karataev, Leo Tolstoy wrote, "But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was always conscious...He could not understand the value or significance of any word or deed taken separately."

2) Again quoting Tolstoy, "Life is everything. Life is God. Everything changes and moves and that movement is God. And while there is life there is joy in consciousness of the divine. To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love one's life in sufferings, in innocent suffering."

3) It really is the time that we have wasted on our roses that makes them so worthwhile.

4) Everything will be made right in the end. If things aren't right, it's not the end.

5) The gift of love, compassion, and empathy are the greatest things man can aspire to gain in this life. A man is incomplete without these, and yet somehow, paradoxically incomplete with them. Man cannot be saved in isolation. We are not to be atomistic, individualistic, self-interested, Hobbesian beings. Indeed, the greatest thing one can ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. "The salvation of man is through love and in love." -- Viktor Frankl

6) Things will be OK. I will be OK. To love life is to love God. The inverse is also true. The object of our existence is to find happiness -- lasting happiness. That happiness comes as we lose ourselves in others. Viktor Frankl wrote, "The more one forgets himself -- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love -- the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself."

The drive behind the decision to work in Romania stems, I think, from this last Frankl quote. Jesus said, "Whosoever shall lose his life shall find it." We become more and more human each time we give up a part of ourselves in the pursuit of something or someone else. I think that's what makes everything turn out OK in the end. I will be OK. We will be OK. The drive to make a difference is an inherently psychological and spiritual one. We seek psychological fulfillment and understanding of who we are and a spiritual understanding of our place in the world. We will be OK. I promise.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Marginal Life

The title of this post is not to suggest that some lives are "almost insufficient" as Webster's defines marginal. Rather, I mean it in a sociological context. Sociologically, a marginal life is one that is "marked by contact with disparate cultures, and acquiring some but not all the traits and values common to any one of them."

So, a marginal life consists of experiencing different cultures, groups, peoples, and ideas and incorporating some of those experiences into who you are as an person. In a way, it's like the pie chart above; hopefully, with a few more divisions.

Mark Twain once wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

The power in interaction is found in the fact that we become more of a person with each successive interaction. The experience I had working in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas have shaped my attitudes and beliefs on issues like poverty and education inequality. It taught me to value living life in the most basic, essential form. None of this extravagance or frivolous spending. Working with Nepalese, Indian, Burmese, and Thai refugees instilled within me the value of hospitality. These incredibly humble people open their homes willingly and offer ever amenity as their disposal. Experience in Utah has strengthened my political and social conception of the way the world should be. Idaho created the part of my soul that loves the outdoors, farms, and simplicity. My family has shaped part of my pie chart, as have my friends and teachers. Each interaction adds a piece to our puzzle that is us and the purpose or meaning we ascribe to our life and the ideals we cherish.

Living a marginal life leads us to question who we are as a person and where we belong in the scheme of things. Currently, I feel in a state of limbo because of this marginalization. I don't feel a sense of belonging in Idaho or Utah. Missouri calls back to me. Romania calls me forward. The values I have absorbed as one who lives a marginal life have attributed -- at least in part -- to my nomadic nature.

Who am I? This isn't a quaint existential exercise in self-examination or evaluation. This is a serious question, one that a marginal life begs to have answered. It's not an easy question to answer, I think. I've got some thinking to do about it myself. I invite you to do the same. Live a marginal life. See what good it does for you. Who are you?