Monday, March 12, 2018

Women are that they might tolerate?


I've been thinking a lot lately about life and peace and joy . . . and tolerance.

Not tolerance in the meaning of putting up with other people's views/habits/difference.  I'm not referring to tolerating (accepting or condoning) sin or evil, either.

Tolerance as in personal tolerance--what can we tolerate. And why is that important?

But first I want to back up and talk about joy.

It's been taught, and I've said it before, that "men are that they might have joy." I believe that. I believe joy comes from knowing who you are and why you're here. Joy can be found in family, faith, fun, growth, and more. Yes, God wants us to have joy.

But-- contrary to what some may think (Hold onto your faith-loving hats for this), joy and happiness isn't the only goal of this life. It is a by-product of other things. 

Why is this an important principle to understand? Because when we go through life feeling that joy is the goal, then anything we feel that might be otherwise is considered opposite of the goal, or bad.

When sorrow comes, we pray it will be taken from us. When grief and anger, fear and frustration weigh us down, we pray that we can find relief. We want to get out of these awful situations and get back to the way life should be--filled with joy.  And we often equate joy with the absence of heartache, discomfort, sadness, or pain.

I want to add joy's best friend, peace, to the mix. We like to feel peace. We associate it with ease and comfort.

When we look at securing peace and joy as the goals of life, rather than a byproduct of the goals of life, we can put ourselves in a harmful frame of mind and spirit. 

When we are suffering we can sometimes feel angry at God. Why is He letting me experience this? Doesn't He want me to be happy? Doesn't He care? Why doesn't He simply let me have peace and joy? Why does He allow me to suffer so?

When we feel that peace and joy are the main goals in this life, the seeming absence of peace and joy--or ease and comfort--can create a multitude of problems:
  • spiritual entitlement (Why am I suffering? I keep the commandments.)
  • resentment towards God (Why aren't You giving me peace and comfort?)
  • guilt (What am I doing to disqualify myself from the blessing of peace and joy?)
  • doubt (Since God isn't taking this pain away, I wonder if He loves me.)
  • shame (I don't deserve to feel peace and joy.)

When we search for and work towards a state of only peace and joy--as interpreted as ease and comfort--we create in our minds the idea that suffering is bad. We tell ourselves that if we are experiencing the opposite of comfort and ease, we are not feeling peace and joy.

But not all suffering is bad. Especially suffering with perspective and purpose.

What if we tweaked our mentality a bit?  What if we were to want joy and peace, of course, but we extend our sights to another goal?

What if our goal was to learn to tolerate discomfort and pain?

I know. It sounds horrible.

In part, because we associate the word tolerate with meanings like "put up with" or "accept because we have to". In addition, most things we "tolerate" are bad. We tolerate going to the dentist, getting shots, having Thanksgiving dinner with certain family members. We "tolerate" things we don't like and wouldn't choose.

These fall under the first, and most commonly associated, the definition of tolerate: to accept or endure something unpleasant or disliked with forbearance. In this light, tolerance is a noble way of handling an unwanted, or even wrong, situation.

But, I want to focus on the other definition of tolerate: to be capable of continued subjection without adverse reaction.

It's not merely about mindset or surviving, but about our capacity to adapt and thrive in challenging conditions.

The reason a cactus can survive in extreme conditions is because they have adapted themselves and can thrive in heat and drout that would wither most other plants. Through adaptation and change, it's found a way to thrive in severe conditions. And, I think it's fair to say, that the cactus has some measure of joy in its existence as well.

Life is hard. And learning to tolerate difficulty is key. Enduring to the end means we train ourselves to tolerate being uncomfortable. (Remember, it doesn't mean we "put up with it.")

It means we strengthen ourselves so we can handle pain and discomfort, and even find purpose and understanding in it, therefore experiencing joy. How can we do this? 

  • choose to believe that pain does not always equal bad
  • choose to believe that pain does not mean God doesn't love us
  • understand that pain and discomfort can be consecrate for our good, if we allow it
  • seek God's guidance and perspective during hard times
  • rely on the grace and mercy of the Atonement to alleviate unnecessary pain (more on that below)
  • Nurture gratitude in difficult times
  • accept the fact that sometimes life is simply hard, and 
  • learn to love the "nevertheless"

What do I mean by the last one?  

A look at the first verse of the Book of Mormon gives some insight.

1 Nephi 1:1  "I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days."

Nephi penned (or etched) his history later in life. So, he had the knowledge of hindsight when he recorded this verse. He understood that hard times doesn't mean we are unloved or unblessed.

He adapted in strength and spirit to his conditions, until he could not only survive, but thrive in them. He could tolerate much and celebrate much.

I watched a great Ted talk by Harvard psychologist, Susan Davis. She talks about the danger of pushing aside negative emotions as bad and replacing them with false positivity. We might lose our ability to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it would be.

"Tough emotions are part of the contract of life," she says. "You don't get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress or discomfort."

Then she ends with a powerful statement:

"Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life."

Women are that we might have joy. And having joy--real joy--means learning to tolerate being uncomfortable and even hurting.

Our main goal isn't to have joy. We are that we might and can have joy, but joy comes when we become more like God, through conversion and the gaining of knowledge and choosing right over wrong and His will over ours. It comes through feeling all the emotions and still seeing and trusting God. It comes when we learn to adapt and thrive in this harsh mortal world.

Our level of joy can rise with our level of tolerance. As we practice our faith in God and use our agency to repent and make good choices, we can gain strength and understanding.

This means, we can have joy in any circumstance in our lives, even the most difficult ones.

How tolerant are you?

Can you thrive when life gets hard? If you were told that your life were to be like Jacob and his family, could you have joy? 

Of his life, Jacob said, "The time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore we did mourn out our days." (Jacob 7:26)

That sounds like it sucked. 

And yet, Jacob testified of God's mercy unto them, and he marveled and gloried in the Lord's plan of happiness. 

He could tolerate a lot, and because of that, he could see, feel, hear, and know God even more. And feel joy.

I had the strangest thing happen to me this weekend. Compared to the trials Jacob went through, and that some of you are going through, it may seem small. But to me, it was big.

Between my calling as stake Relief Society president and my speaking as an author, I do a lot of teaching in front of a lot of people. My process is always the same: I prayerful prepare until my nervousness turns to excitement. When I become excited to share my message, I know I've figured out what God wants me to say. Then, right before, I invariably feel His approval through the Spirit, and as I speak, I am given further inspiration to make adjustments and additions. I never walk away being proud of myself as a speaker. But I always come away feelings that I've done a good job in His eyes.

Until Saturday.

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak in our adult session of stake conference. I started prayerfully studying and pondering the subject immediately, but found no inspiration. I struggled to think of a clear direction and I couldn't remember the things I'd just read.

Because there was to be a change on our stake presidency, we had two general authorities come to visit. If that didn't make me nervous enough, my (then) stake president asked me not to use notes. I don't write my talks about, but I do like to have some bullets points to keep me on track.

But not this time. Ten minutes, no notes, on caring for the poor and needy.

So, I prayed and read and made outlines to memorize and nothing came. The day of the conference session came and I drove to the church with tears in my eyes because God had yet to bless me with inspiration. Any inspiration. Not even a warm fuzzy.

Feelings of inadequacy began to take over. Fear, frustration, doubt all grew louder. I was an hour away, half hour away, ten minutes away, then it was my turn, and I still had no idea what I was going to say.

I thought it was a lack of faith, do I decided to stand and open my mouth, fully believing He would put words into it like He has before.

But He didn't.

I stood there, facing 700 people and my mind was blank. A quick mental scramble produces some key points, but I stumbled over words and fumbled over thoughts. I stopped in the middle and prayed for some guidance, some feeling, some sign of His presence or approval. 


I was rattled.

What was supposed to be a 10-minute inspirational talk about caring for the poor and the needy turned out to be a 7.5 minute mess.

I sat down and wanted to cry. But, as I was the first speaker, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with a GA, I felt it best to put on my brave face and save the crying for the ride home.

And yes, I did cry.

Feelings and questions came. Why did God abandon me? What is He trying to tell me? Had I failed? Should I not have opened my mouth? And, honestly, what on earth had I even said?

Questions fed doubts, as they often do, and soon I had convinced myself that this uncomfortable and even painful experience meant one thing: something was wrong. Either I'd failed him, or I was too proud, or He doesn't want me to speak anymore.

None of the things I'd figured out were good. But, it was an uncomfortable situation and those are, you know, bad.

I had the thought to blog tonight when I looked into my drafts and saw the beginnings of this one. I had started it a month ago and set it aside to finish later.

I'll admit, I chuckled when I realized God used my own words to answer some of my own questions. Tricky one, He is.

I realized tonight that I went through something really uncomfortable. I felt abandoned by God. Even if it was just for a talk, the feeling was real. And awful.

But, what can I tolerate? Can I still endure, thrive even, in situations like this?

Can I choose happiness and hope and trust when the evidence points to other things?

Can I choose to believe that there is a really good reason for this experience? And the reason may simply have been for me to experience it and gain knowledge and wisdom from it.

Can my testimony grow and can I change for the better even in the moments I don't feel Him near.

The answer is yes, I can.

I can tolerate this. And I can tolerate a whole lot more.

Because I know that this life is a test--our proving grounds for eternity. And if I fold or buckle every time it gets rough, I will weak and blaming others for my pain. I will be angry and perhaps even inconsolable. I would drive to the store at 11pm to buy a new purse then go home and eat ice cream out of the carton for like 30 minutes then Instagram it. (Oh wait, I did do those things.)  I would be a sad case in the end indeed.

And it's not just the talk. Like you, I have a glaring list of hard things in my life right now. I've got super proof in my arsenal that life stinks sometimes and pain is bad. But, But I want a meaningful life. And I refuse to give more power to harsh conditions that they already take. 

When I was eight years old Spencer W. Kimball said, "There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, "Give me this mountain", give me these challenges."

I echo his words now.

Though I still feel wounded a bit, I am ready to meet the challenges of life.

I am ready to pay the admission for a meaningful life.

Give me this mountain.

Give me these challenges.

I can tolerate them.

I can thrive.

And I can have joy.

And so can you.

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