Have you ever had a broken air conditioner, a broken dishwasher, a leaky toilet, a major mold removal project that resulted from said toilet, a car repair, a chronic illness, a raging pandemic, an economic collapse, and problems with your family of origin…….all at the same time? If you have, you might understand a little of what my mental state is.
Even so, in this time of great stress and trial, I find myself growing stronger every day. I have hope that the temporary stresses of today will pass and that tomorrow will bring less chaos and drama. My relationships with my husband and children are growing. I was able to go to church yesterday, swathed in a cloth mask and sitting a good distance away from any other families. I was worried that the strange circumstances of the meeting would make my anxiety worse. Sacrament meeting is hard for me even in the best of times, but bound in a mask breathing my own hot breath and unable to sing? I had serious concerns. Fortunately, I had no symptoms of anxiety. I had been assigned the opening prayer, which I forgot of course. After a few whispered reminders, I offered a prayer for the congregation. After the meeting, it was so wonderful to see and talk to a few good friends.
Last night, our family had a very nice long discussion about religion and church. Our son confided some of his feelings and concerns. It was a beautiful day. It wasn’t a perfect Father’s Day. In some ways it was a very painful day. But if I’ve learned anything in the past three months, it is that pain and beauty can live together.
The family discussion lead to a dramatic dream last night that helped shed some light on the tremendous progress I have made since I started therapy two years ago. I am a much stronger person and I take much better care of myself now than I used to. Because of that, I have been a better instrument in the hands of my Savior to bless his children.
The relationship with the self is the key to everything. The Savior taught that what comes out of a person’s mouth comes from the abundance of the heart; whether that is good or evil. If a person hasn’t come to terms with their pain, reflected on their own sins and repented, and come in humility before God and submitted themselves as a little child to his will, how can that person connect with others? How can that person have true empathy? How can I understand another person if I don’t understand myself? How can I forgive another person if I can’t forgive myself? It all comes down to the heart of the self.
And the only way to develop a healthy heart is to feed it and love it. The only way to emotional maturity is to nurture and protect the inner child. If the self is neglected, there is not an abundance of the heart, but a cavernous hole. Like the silly man in the parable we are running around trying to remove motes from the eyes of others while a beam is sticking out of our own. We are keyboard warriors ready to cancel and shame all the motes we see while stubbornly unconscious of the beam that is causing us so much pain. Self-reflection and self-compassion is the key to a fruitful life.
And yet, I was taught to focus not on myself, but on others. It was considered selfish and sinful to be self centered. I was taught to be conscious of others and make them happy. That was my responsibility. Of course, that was nice for them…..but for me, not so much. I felt like a clown with a mask of cheeriness running around avoiding anyone who was suffering who couldn’t be fixed with a little distraction and entertainment. Drop off a meal, give a hug, check off a box, and run to the next responsibility while trying to stuff down feelings of resentment and depression. I may have made things pleasant for some for a while, but at the cost of my own soul.
Understand, I am not saying that what I was taught was evil. There is a difference between evil and empty. There is a difference between a person who acts happy and a person who is happy. It was only when I started investing in myself, understanding myself, and having compassion for myself that I began to make real and meaningful connections with others. My depression isn’t gone. There is still a ways to go before I reach that point. Still, I’m making steady progress toward self-esteem. Already I feel an abundance of heart. I can love my enemies, bless them that curse me, do good to them that hate me, and pray for those who despitefully use me and persecute me with an understanding of who the real enemy is. The enemies aren’t my brothers and sisters on this Earth. They aren’t responsible for all the chaos and pain in this world. They, along with me, are the victims of it. There is only one way to conquer Satan and that is with the constant help of my Savior.
And increasingly I am coming to him to know what to do next. Instead of the complicated calculations of how my choices will make someone else feel, I turn my calculations to the Savior. What would he do? What would he want me to do? Even if it makes someone incredibly uncomfortable, that’s okay as long as He wants me to do it. The Savior made a lot of people very uncomfortable because of his willingness to exist. It wasn’t his mission to make people feel good today, it was to save them. He was the physician, not the entertainer.
Everyone loves a good entertainer. We don’t go to the doctor to feel good today. Often there is the setting of bones, the taking of yucky medications, the reminders of healthy behaviors we have neglected, or even the revelation of a devastating diagnosis. It’s a lot more pleasant to go to the movies than to the doctor’s office. I’ve covenanted to take the name of the Savior upon me and take up his cross. What does that mean? It means that I am to do as He did. I am to choose to exist, to speak, to minister, and to love. That also means that I will make people uncomfortable sometimes. Am I greater than He? Am I smarter or more righteous than He was that I can somehow avoid the same outcome He had? No.
My inner critic insists, “You aren’t Jesus Christ. You aren’t a doctor. Who do you think you are to put yourself above others this way?” To that critic I say, it wasn’t me who wrote the terms of the covenant. He wants me to pretend to be Him no matter how imperfectly I do it. He said, “Take upon you the name of Christ and keep his commandments.” Should the apprentice never take up the tools because he is unable to do as his master is able to do? I am the apprentice and he has commanded me to take up the tools. If I listen to you, who then is my master? Am I not putting myself above the master I have covenanted to serve if I heed you? So I say to my inner critic, “Get thee behind me Satan, for thou savorest not the things of God.”
And so I walk my broken and crooked path to Him who is Mighty to Save. If a narrow path means a lonely path then perhaps I am not so far off the mark. I can’t say that it has been a straight path, but perhaps it is a strait path.