This morning I lay in bed with Pepper nestled sleeping behind my knees and Austin curled up in my arms. It was heaven. For maybe five minutes. And then Austin wanted to snuggle Pepper and then they started playing and climbing all over me and there were twisted sheets and rumpled blankets and strained bladders. The moment was over. Sigh.
I still didn’t want to get out of bed and face the day. My mind cast about for something productive I could do in bed that might transition me out of sleep. I thought of listening to the Book of Mormon. We have been trying to do better this year at studying the scriptures as a family. Last night at dinner I realized I hadn’t read my scriptures that day. Ben ended up carrying the discussion. I wanted to do better.
So I opened my gospel library app and I tapped on the headphone icon and I listened to a few chapters while I tried to settle the dog and the child in for a few more minutes of rest. I thought of how easy it was for me to get my gospel “reading” in without even leaving my bed. Why is consistently doing something so simple so hard for me to do?
“Layne, you read the Percy Jackson series in a week! You could read the whole Book of Mormon in like, a day,” Devin said at dinner a few nights ago. I had just challenged the older boys to read the Book of Mormon for the first time. I told them about how I read the Book of Mormon for the first time when I was about their age and that I had received a witness of the truthfulness of the book just as Moroni promised I would in the final chapters of the book.
Devin was right, of course. The Book of Mormon is not a long book. It isn’t boring either. It is a compelling record with piercing insights. It’s not overly hard to read or understand, and yet, why is it so hard to get past first Nephi? I think the difficulty lies in the simplicity. Like Naaman in the Old Testament who was told to wash in the river to cleanse his leprosy, it was just too easy to feel like it would be effective.
There are a hundred things like that. Eat a few servings of vegetables. Take a walk. Go to bed early. They are simple and relatively easy, and yet how hard is it to consistently do these things? Each time I start getting better at one or two, I start sliding on the others. But today I listened to the Book of Mormon, and I played the Switch with Austin before I took him to preschool. I fed the dog. I ate some healthy food. I’m off to a good start.
I’ve been thinking about how life is full of paradoxes. Easy simple things that are really impossibly hard. Living in this world while remaining unspotted from it. Embracing your feelings and accepting the reality of them without drowning in them. Repenting and changing constantly while remaining committed to core principles. Living centered in yourself without being centered on yourself. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to walk a tightrope than learn to do these things.
Last week in therapy my counselor said something off hand that has stuck in my brain. She said it like, “of course you know this and everybody knows this, but I’m just going to say it because it fits.” But to me, it didn’t fit. I knew it was true but I knew that I didn’t really believe it. Even after over a year of doing it, I’m still not totally comfortable with it. She said, “Expression is good.”
Of course, my whole blog is based on the premise that expression is good; that hiding and repressing and denying the expression of thought and emotion is profoundly unhealthy. In our society we allow certain people to express in limited ways. Writers, actors, singers, and children are allowed to express if they have sufficient talent to make their work valuable to us. The rest of humanity must tend to more practical matters. Expression is a luxury. Education, personal development, and expression are luxuries only to be experienced by a select few. If such luxuries were distributed to the wider population, what might happen!?! People might engage their brains and become excited. They might start doing dangerous and unexpected things. They might start changing the world.
And yet, I know what the alternative to expression is. I know what it is to hide and be afraid and force my mind into the stupor of pragmatism. I choose expression. Even with the chaos and the messy emotion, expression is better than the alternative. I choose to sing and write and paint and bear my witness that Jesus is the Christ. A portion of his spirit lives in me and he wants me to share it. Like Joseph Smith, a fourteen year old child of no status or significance, I can hear a voice from God and witness to the world that the heavens are not silent. That there is more to this life than the pursuit of power, money, and pleasure. That if you seek after Him who is Mighty to Save, you can also feel of His love and have the desire to express yourself as His creation; not of this world, but of a better world.
Yoda said, “Luminous beings are we! Not this crude matter.” True this is. Wise this is. As I lift my eyes from the mess that is this fallen mortal world, I see that the Savior is the author of our salvation. He has shown me the reality of a better world; repented, redeemed, and saved by His matchless power. It is possible to create that world, with His help, in our own lives. In our own homes. I imagine it as creating an oasis of salvation within a desert of sin. Weary travelers that the Lord brings into my path can rest and take strength as they pass through this life’s trials and experiences.
My ward family is supporting a member who is struggling with some heavy burdens. Yesterday she had another major setback in her journey. Then I read that last week another ward family member, a young father, had a heart attack. Another family in our ward has been displaced and living in a hotel for months while their house is repaired. A woman in our ward gave birth to her baby prematurely. As a family, we have been praying for a fourteen year old boy in Denton who was paralysed in a trampoline accident last year. It’s hard to see how all my prayers and efforts have made much of a difference. Austin prays every day for “Jo-shwa BLACK,” but he is still paralysed. The miraculous healing I hoped for has not happened. I showed Austin the latest pictures of Joshua Black as he stood in his standing frame. He has made slow and steady progress and there is great hope that he will regain the ability to walk. I try to encourage my boys to keep praying and to celebrate those small successes, but I can sometimes see the unspoken questions in their eyes. “Why hasn’t God helped these people?”
The uncomfortable answer is, I don’t know. It isn’t what I wanted or even what I expected. Sometimes it’s incredibly discouraging bearing one another’s burdens when those burdens seem to never lighten. I could say all kinds of things that might make it look better. I could say, “We are exercising our faith,” or “God has helped them, we just can’t see what he has done,” or “God works in his own time.” But something tells me to hold back and let my children feel the sadness and discouragement. That is part of the process. Loving those who suffer is sad and discouraging, but that is what the Savior did. He did it, and so can I. Ironically, as I suffer with them, I find joy. It’s back to the paradoxes again. Losing your life and saving it; sacrificing your happiness and finding it. In a weird way, it makes sense.
Well, it’s time for me to do some laundry, plan a family trip, and prepare for my session with my counselor tonight. I’m going to keep expressing because expression IS good. It’s uncomfortable, and raw, and awkward, but it’s good.