Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. — Leo Tolstoy
As a young adult, I thought I was going to change the world. I had such a high opinion of myself and what I could do. I laugh at my past self sometimes and the unrealistic view I had of the world, but
more importantly, of myself. While it is true that we can and do change the world by our very existence, most of the change happens within us. Indeed, that is the very reason we came to earth.
It is a noble thing to want to make our world a better place, and we can make a difference. We make a difference through service. Serving others is not only a good thing, it is a commandment. In serving others, however, we not only help them; we help ourselves. Service changes us.
When you are young and self-righteous, you don’t even realize that there is change needed in you. I don’t know many young adults who aren’t convinced that they know everything there is to know about life—including myself at that age. Knowing everything appears to be a rite of passage into adulthood. It doesn’t take long to figure out that you don’t know what you think you know. As a matter of fact, you have a whole lot to learn.
The first inclination I had that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, was when my first child was born. I was not quite 23 years old. My first-born child was born with a serious health issue. As my husband and I sat in the hospital making life or death decisions about our precious little one, I was acutely aware that I knew nothing. I wasn’t so smart after all. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and have someone else make the decisions for me—but I was the mom. The weight of that responsibility was crushing and mind blowing. In the blink of an eye, I had to out of necessity transform myself into an adult. That was not an easy change to make.
Once the health crisis with our baby was resolved, it became apparent that there were other changes to be made. Children change you very fast. I wanted to be a good parent, and good parents are selfless people. The world no longer revolved around me, nor did my marriage. My marriage was only 9 1/2 months old when our first child was born, and I had already learned from a rough pregnancy that happily ever afters are a bit different from the storybook version. Marriage is a selfless institution, as is the parenting gig. Changing the world quickly became transforming me into the person I needed to be to live up to my commitments as wife and mother.
Remember I said that children change you? I went on to have three more children. Each day was a new surprise as to what new lesson my children taught me. As my children grew, I had to set an example for them, which meant getting my own act together. Children don’t understand that moms and dads are just trying to grow up themselves. I’m 60 years old, my children are grown, and I still feel like I’m a child trying to soak up all the character traits that are needed to make me a good person.
At this point in my life, I’ve realized that I really have changed the world, as well as myself. The world now has my children. They are good people, and they are doing good things. The best thing they are doing is improving their own characters as they struggle through life, and as they raise their own children. They are learning, as I did, that changing the world is as simple as changing themselves.
Contemplating the change within me over the years, it occurs to me that as I developed the character traits needed to be a good wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, citizen—in essence, the character traits to become a good adult—I’ve been trying to be more like Christ without even realizing that that’s what I was doing. Obviously, I have not succeeded, but it is the journey that is important. All these years later, maybe what I’ve been doing is trying to receive His image in my countenance. I’ve been experiencing a mighty change in my heart.
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
I wish I had really known as much as a young adult as I thought I knew. If I had, maybe I would be further along in my spiritual progression. I’m just glad that somewhere along the way I learned that it was more important to change myself rather than to change the world. Now that I’ve reached my “golden years,” I intend to work even harder to have that complete and mighty change of heart. I need to change myself into what God would have me be.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.