Jenni and I would like to thank everyone for their love and support this past week! It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster at times that we hadn’t fully anticipated when we hit “publish.”
That’s part of the reason why I wanted to step back a little bit this week and talk about something a little safer and not as emotionally charged.
I wanted to talk about dealing with life.
Sounds a little broad, doesn’t it? But it’s something we all have to face. Somehow, we all manage to get out of bed in the morning and embrace the day. Sometimes it can be really fun– like spending a day at a theme park, going to a movie we’ve been dying to see, or having a fun night out with friends. But a large portion of it for a lot of us is work. We can spend hours in front of a computer or in a classroom or lab, and one day mushes into the next. Sometimes a job that we initially loved can somehow lose its spark and become monotony. How do we find that joy again? Sometimes we feel that we are just being pulled in too many directions, and it’s only a matter of time until we collapse. How do we manage all of these competing priorities. Sometimes we just want to find a moment of peace in the swirl of appointments, assignments, and errands. But how and when?
These questions are regularly on my mind, and I find myself always trying to recalibrate, to find my center again, so that I don’t lose my motivation. I’ve collected many resources over the years with principles that I find of deep and lasting value. I’ve quoted some of them here, with a bit of commentary of my own. They mean a lot to me, and I wanted to pass them on.
Living Day by Day
In this section, I wanted to answer the question, “How do I deal with the uncertainty of the future?” We will always have to deal with some measure of uncertainty. For me right now, I’m feeling nervous about finding an apartment that Jenni and I will be able to afford on my small graduate student stipend. I’m worried about finding a job after I graduate. I worry about how I am going to be a good father when our daughter is born. And mix in with this all the small worries of assignments, presentations, and papers that are always coming due all the time. All these worries can paralyze you if you don’t find a way to manage them.
I found this video several months ago when I had just started graduate school. In it, the apostle D. Todd Christofferson recounts a harrowing personal experience and recalls how he learned that God gives us support and aid a day at a time:
“What I learned in that process was what it’s like to come to a point in your life where you really have nowhere to turn but to God… And so it became, during portions of that experience, a matter of getting the manna for that day— the help that could only come from Him, from God, for the moment.”
The principle isn’t a new one. The ancient Israelites had to rely on the Lord to provide them with manna daily. That can be so scary! What about tomorrow? It requires faith, faith in God that he will provide, and it reminds us that we can’t make it entirely on our own.
I recalled one of my favorite pioneer stories that has a similar message. Francis Webster recounted some of his experiences crossing the plains on his way to Utah:
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me! I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.”
I played with the analogy of climbing a mountain. I’m an avid hiker, and I love the feeling you get when you get to the top. It makes it all worth it. One of the first peaks I remember climbing in the Salt Lake area was Grandeur Peak. Every time you look up to see if you are any closer to the top, it always seems like a new false peak appears. What you thought was the top wasn’t actually the top, and you still have farther to go. We sometimes can find ourselves doing the same thing in life. “Once I graduate, things will settle down.” Once I have a family. Once I have a house. Once the kids are grown. It seems like we’re constantly setting new peaks that turn out to be false ones. But that’s not a bad thing. Imagine if we were always at a peak in our lives, at the end. It’s not a story anymore. We’re always growing, and I’m glad I’m still on my journey.
Thomas S. Monson connects this concept of always growing to finding joy:
“This is our one and only chance at mortal life– here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey– now.”
He calls out the false peaks as just that. This can be one of the hardest things to do: to slow down, to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the moment, to find joy in the journey. We get so caught up in getting places that we don’t enjoy the things around us.
Here’s a take on it from the view of a neuroscientist in a neat book I stumbled upon at the library: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload:
Think about what we adults do when taking a pill, an act so commonplace that we can do it without thinking (and often do). We put the pill in our mouths, take a drink, swallow,w all the while thinking about six other things: Did I remember to pay the electric bill? What new work will my boss give me to do today at the ten o’clock meeting? I’m getting tired of this breakfast cereal, I have to remember to buy a different one next time I’m at the store… All of this cross talk in our overactive brains, combined with the lack of attention to the moment of taking the pill, increases the probability that we’ll forget it a few short minutes later. The childlike sense of wonder that we had as children, the sense that there is adventure in each activity, [has been lost].
Now, forgetting that you took a pill perhaps isn’t the worst thing you could forget. But we can go through life passing by opportunities to make lasting memories. We need to be present with our families so that we can remember how we taught our kids to catch, or how they laughed. We need to capture these moments with our spouses, kids, and all those we love. We are closer to each other when we learn to be present.
I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis, and I stumbled upon this quote from Screwtape while rereading Screwtape Letters this past week. The book is a series of letters from a senior devil in the bureaucracy of Hell to a minor tempter responsible for a single individual referred to as a “patient.” In this quote, he references how to draw our minds away from the present to focus on an uncertain future:
“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…
“Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present…[The Past] is of limited value… It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think in unrealities.”
Worrying about the future can be a lot of waste energy.
Prayer as a Part of Faith
One thing that can make our climb easier is prayer. My parents taught me to say my prayers in the morning and before I went to bed. My primary teachers gave me a prayer rock, a rock I would put on my pillow to remind me to pray before my head hit the pillow. And my family tried our hardest to say morning prayer as a family every day, even if it was difficult at times. It took me a while to appreciate how the power of prayer doesn’t necessarily come during the prayer itself. Take this scripture from Nephi:
“Ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”(2 Nephi 32:9)
I love this scripture! Any activity we do, we are promised that it will be consecrated to our good when we pray. Sure, this works when we pray about our scripture study, about taking the sacrament, about conference. But this applies to time spent our our family, to homework assignments and to work as well. I find myself praying at work at all the time, and I know that it does make work a good for you.
David A. Bednar shows how a pattern of prayer links together different aspects and events of your life:
“Morning and evening prayers– and all of the prayers in between– are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years. This is in part how we fulfill the scriptural admonition to “pray always.”
Our pattern of prayer helps us through everyday work and weariness as well as sharper and more acute trials.
Balance Comes Through God
But what about when we do have too much to do? We have so many tasks– work, school, spouse, kids, cleaning, cooking, church duties, and we still want to find time to rest or go out to do something fun. I found this video from School of Life that describes the problem well:
“Unfortunately, our society has set up an absurd idea: that it will be possible to do many things and do them all completely well. That’s why we hear so much talk about an elusive thing called work-likfe balance: perfectly optimal career and a perfectly optimal home life. This is a mad idea! Work-life balance is impossible because everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”
Brad Wilcox used an analogy from a children’s book by Tomie dePaola, “The Clown of God,” that makes me cry every time. The book recounts the story of a homeless boy who took up juggling to make a living as a clown. When he gets old, no one wants cares to watch him anymore, and he returns to begging on the street. One day, he goes to a church, empty for the day, where he sees a statue of Mary and the Christ child. The baby Jesus looks very stern, and he decided to juggle to try to make him smile. I don’t want to ruin the ending with my poor summary, but I wanted to give the appropiate background for Brad Wilcox’s analogy:
“I’m afraid that when all the lessons on simplifying, prioritizing, and balancing are over I am left with only one option– juggling… My family members are silver, blue, yellow, white and red. Church is green. Service is pink. Teaching, speaking and writing are lilac, lavender and lemon. Research is orange. Committee responsibilities and consulting are brown and violet. Higher and higher, faster and faster, the rainbow of colored balls fills the air. Then one by one I being dropping them. Crowds don’t ridicule me as they did the old clown. But I do a pretty good job of beating myself up when I see more balls on the ground than in the air.
“In such moments I am tempted to quit, but somehow I find the motivation to stoop down, pick up the balls, and keep juggling… Just like the little clown, I’ve learned I juggle for God– because I love and appreciate Him and want to serve Him. That provides me with enough motivation to keep going no matter what.”
I do feel like I’m juggling sometimes, and it does hurt when one of the balls fall. But I’m glad that I can just keep going. There really isn’t an easy solution to the problem of having too much to do, and that is OK. I’m so glad though, that there is someone out there who can keep track of everything: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”
I do think that, despite being busy, there is something we can do that will make it easier. There is something that can unify all our efforts and break that compartmentalization of all our many responsibilities. Stephen Covey wrote about it in his book The Divine Center:
“One very common reactive pattern is to live in compartments. In this case one’s behavior is based largely on the role expectationis in each compartment– father, mother, leader, teacher, Church worker, lawyer, doctor, public official, carpenter, salesman, assembly-line worker, upholsterer, researcher, and so on. But each of these compartments carries its own value system, in which case the person may find himself meeting different expectations and living by differing values based on the role or the environment he is in at any particular time.
“A life centered on God, on the other hand, brings him permanently in to one’s life with his unchanging value system and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This approach makes all of life sacred. It is like a spiritual umbrella which integrates and fuses every compartment of life into a unified whole. Even so-called secular activities, when viewed in this way, are made sacred. No other center is capable of forming a solid security base through a true map of one’s worth. No other center is constantly present to guide us to true wisdom and ultimate power.”
To close, I wanted to share some wise counsel given by a member of our stake presidency to stake. He recounted a story that had to do with an apostle or a prophet, but I forget the details. In the story, one brother was feeling stressed and overworked. He would work long and tired nights worrying about the responsibilities for those whom he was charged. A wise mentor reached out to him and told him that he didn’t have enough faith. The key takeaway message was, the Lord requires of us a reasonable effort. When we have given that, the Lord will take care of the rest. It’s hard when we think we have to do everything ourselves. That’s the way the Atonement works (2 Ne 25:23).
P.S. Another quote from Henry B. Erying that I couldn’t perfectly weave in:
‘Most of you have discovered that priesthood duties will stretch you to the point that you wonder if you can stretch that far… You may have thought then, “Once I finish my mission, being a faithful priesthood holder will get easier.” But in a few years you found yourself getting even less sleep at night, while trying to support a wife and a new baby, being kind and loving, scrambling to get some education, reaching out to members of your elders quorum, perhaps even helping to move their furniture, and trying to find time to serve your ancestors in the temple. You may have kept a smile on your face with the thought: “When I get a little older, being a faithful priesthood holder will not require so much. It will get easier.”
‘Those you further down the road are smiling because you know something about priesthood service. It is this: the more faithful service you give, the more the Lord asks of you. Your smile is a happy one because you know that He increases our power to carry the heavier load.’