Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our lives belong to God

We have spent many years now trying to build Tim's career. It's gone this way and that, each step leading us closer to something, but we don't know what.

I have tried many, many times to force it into being something I could see because I like the idea that I can see where we're going and therefore work toward it. Every time I have chosen a goal and worked hard to make it happen, it has been a drastically wrong direction for Tim. It has been humbling to see myself doing my very best and being wrong so many times, over and over, as I tried to think my way forward and walk that way--and run into brick walls. Over and over and over. Consistently for the last 17 years, in fact.

But recently I have begun to think that I'm going about this all wrong.

We keep trying to follow the advice of people who should know, trying to build a business using good business advice like having a vision, setting goals, working toward those goals; being tenacious and good networkers and stubborn and flexible all at once; doing it "right" and being creative at the same time, adapting to the markets, providing a product people need, finding the intersection of talent, interest, and sellability....

None of it worked. I don't know if it ever works for anyone, but it didn't work for us. I kind of suspect all that advice was actually someone sitting down and saying, "Gosh, I made it big and I did this, so that must be the key," without any comprehension that they "got lucky." Or were blessed.

What I have concluded is that financial stability is a gift from God, even if you had to work really hard to get it. Most people are actually one serious accident away from ruin, and we have no control over that. But I digress.

What I was trying to get to was this new idea that is bouncing around my head.

I think the problem with our approach to Tim's career is that we assumed the career is Tim's. I mean, it's his body, his voice, his hours of labor, and his talent. And God gives us agency to figure things out for ourselves and determine the directions we want to go, right?

But I'm beginning to think it's not actually Tim's career. It belongs to God. Tim does the work, of course, that he can. But we are not really in charge of this, we don't really own this, and the outcome is not ours to control or to glory from (whatever that may be in the end). I've concluded that the only way out of the difficulties we've been drowning in for so long is to let go, stop fighting the currents to try to swim to where we want to be, and see where this river takes us.  We can't really fight it anyway.

I am reminded of D&C 121:33: "What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints."  Or from pushing Tim along this career, apparently. 

Our arms are puny, indeed. 

So many times I've looked at Tim when we were both feeling sad about one thing or another and said, "This makes no sense. This should have happened, and the only way it didn't is if God was stopping it for some reason."

We have truly done all we can, and we certainly haven't been fighting against God. Our greatest desire is to serve Him. But we're going through life blind, same as everyone else. Except for one hiccup: most people have a career path laid out that is tried and true, proven and established. They feel inspired to become a doctor and there is a way you do that and a predictable outcome. You seek inspiration, it leads you to a road, and you follow that road the best way you know how. That's how most people's lives work. 

That has not been true of Tim's career or our lives. There is no path. There is no predictable outcome. There are only steps. And darkness. 

We have no idea where we are going. 

We have hints. We sometimes get an idea that this might actually be a path we're walking on, even though we can't see the path-ness of it most of the time. 

But seeing that this is actually God's career, and God's work, and that He apparently wants to use Tim's talents not for what we intend, but for what He intends, changes things for me. It leaves me with the terrifying and exhilarating idea that we don't have to be in charge--that we can just go along, one step at a time, doing the best we can to do what's right and follow the Spirit, and God can be in charge of where we end up. This requires a new level of faith for me, to actually let go that way while still working as hard as I know how. 

So I was pondering this idea--how does this change things? What does this mean? Does it actually change anything in day-to-day life, given we were already trying to do right and go with God's way of doing things? Is it actually important to give God ownership of Tim's career, instead of it being Tim's? What is my role in this, since I don't really own Tim or his career anyway and this giving and taking all have to ultimately be Tim's choice? (Often Tim already knows this stuff and has taken care of it long before it dawns on me, which very likely is the case in this situation. Quite possibly he never did consider it "his" career in the first place.)

While thinking about these things, I sat down to rest and read the new Ensign magazine that came today. I can't even link to it online yet because it's March's issue, which officially hasn't been released yet. But there's this great article in it by Elder Christofferson called "Finding your Life." In it, he discusses at length the scripture that instructs us to lose our lives in order to find them. 

It was a breath of fresh air for me. We love to tell the stories in the church of people who chose right and were blessed for it, almost to the point that we expect that things will go smoothly as long as we're choosing right. But Elder Christofferson points out, with great examples, that often choosing right leads to difficulty and sacrifice and suffering. Such has been the case for us, and it has been perplexing and frustrating to read the stories in the Ensign month after month after month that seemed to indicate we should immediately be blessed with what we desired or something better (or at least understanding and great peace) because we did what was right. But no. That's not often the case. 

Which brings me to the part of the article that was so powerful to me. I'll just quote it outright, since I can't link to the text (you can listen to it here: The part I'm quoting here starts at 35:27, but includes more in the full speech than in the Ensign version).

Elder Christofferson says, "The priorities and interests we most often see on display around us (and sometime in us) are intensely selfish: a hunger to be recognized; an insistent demand that one's rights be respected; a consuming desire for money, things, and power; a sense of entitlement to a life of comfort and pleasure; a goal to minimize responsibility and avoid altogether any personal sacrifice for the good of another--to name a few. 

"This is not to say that we should not seek to succeed, even excel, in worthy endeavors, including education and honorable work. Certainly, worthwhile achievements are laudable. But if we are to save our lives, we must always remember that such attainments are not ends in themselves but means to a higher end. With our faith in Christ, we must see political, business, academic, and similar forms of success not as defining us but as making possible our service to God and fellowman--beginning at home and extending as far as possible in the world.

"Personal development has value as it contributes to development of a Christlike character. In measuring success, we recognize the profound truth underlying all else--that our lives belong to God, our Heavenly Father, and to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Success means living in harmony with Their will."

(He goes on to talk about Joseph Smith, whose revelations brought them to Missouri, where the Saints suffered horribly. Obviously following God does not always put us into pleasant and easy circumstances.)

Since I have no real firm idea of where God wants us to end up, I suppose we get to work, and work hard, to do exactly what has been laid before us, and then simply let go, and trust that God will do with this career that doesn't belong to us whatever He wants. I hope that if we let Him, He will use us as tools to do His work, whatever that may be.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

Thank you so much for all that you write. It really inspired and edifies me.