Welcome back, dear reader. I feel like I have been gone so long that I hardly even know where to begin. But in my absence, it is true what they say, my heart has grown fonder, and I have come to truly appreciate our opportunities to sit down and get to know one another better. And what better way to get to know one another than sharing our hearts?!
So here goes, can I be frank with you?
(To which you should reply–”Only if I can be Shirley!”)
But I digress…
Have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:
“Nobody understands me!”
I’ll tell you what, my friends, after a brief trip down memory lane, I can honestly say that I have uttered these words a time or two…thousand.
And that is what I want to talk about.
There is so much discussion in our world today about being unique. We treat our children as if they are the only children alive, and we award them trophies and accolades for accomplishing next to nothing. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (maybe even Pinterest) have taught us to view ourselves as individuals with relevant opinions on the world stage. And various other outlets have made it possible for the one to create a following of hundreds.
Readers, I get it, I talk about social media a lot. But it is only because I love you, and because I believe that social media is not so much about the media as it is about a social experiment quickly going wrong.
In all of this individualism, we are forgetting that we are part of something much bigger: a group of individuals experiencing life, trials, new emotions, successes, and failures just like everyone else.
When we forget that we belong to a group, we forget that others have feelings too.
After picking my children up from school last week, I decided to give them a rare treat and stay and play at the park instead of racing home to finish homework and stuffing ourselves with dinner before we had to burn rubber to football practice.
The older two boys took off like rockets to tackle each other in the dirt, but the youngest was not so easily entertained. Well, I don’t normally advocate disrupting ant hills, but in the name of science and exploration and sanity–sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
It was so interesting to see what ants do when their culture is disrupted. Their first reaction was not to fend for themselves and take cover, or in other words, to think of the individual. Instead, they went into a frenzy of action, almost as if programmed, to fend for each other. They grabbed each little white granule (baby ant) and dragged it back into safety. It was almost as if each ant was assigned a specific egg to care for, and his job was not done until safety was reached.
Of course, the science “experiment” was all the rage for a four year old boy, and the social context was completely lost on him.
But not on me.
UNIQUE COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE
I will admit that sometimes I have myself so convinced that I am so entirely unique that no one else can possibly understand me. That no one wants to be my friend. Or that my troubles are so unique that they cannot possibly be solved.
I will have myself so entirely convinced of this that I fail to recognize that all I have to do is walk outside of my house to discover friends and neighbors across the street who love and care about me.
And yes, sometimes I might even have myself believing that God doesn’t even understand me.
And that, my friends, my dear friends, is a dangerous thought indeed.
When we do not believe that God loves us, then we begin to make decisions that might lead us away from the One who loves us the most.
And the really horrible thing about all of this (if forgetting God’s love for us can be trumped) is that we get so involved in ourselves that we forget our sole purpose for coming to earth–to lift up the hand of another.
On the flip side, we might be so entirely convinced that we have created our beloved public image ourselves, that we forget that we put on our shoes the same way as everybody else. To put it simply, of course. We might find ourselves judging based on appearance or accomplishments, or heaven knows what else. But it all leads to one thing–forgetting that we are each involved in our own unique communal experience.
We might think that we have done so well for ourselves that we don’t need to rely on God quite as much as we did before–or at all for that matter. And so, too, we may no longer recognize the miracles that He performs for us daily, instead merely believing that we have created them for ourselves.
Before I go on, let me just say that I am not talking about those with depression. Depression is a serious issue and should be handled with care and with the proper authority. In no way am I suggesting that you can just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and magically fix yourself.
The type of mind frame I am talking about is one that usually results from an attack of the ‘Why Me’s?’ or perhaps a hint of the ‘I’m The Bomb-diggity!’.
Yes it does.
We can read about just such an instance in the Book of Mormon.
In Helaman chapter 3, we are introduced to a growing society. The Nephite population has expanded so rapidly that people are moving out of their homeland in search of a less crowded place to live. This all comes together during a time of peace, that naturally leads to prosperity.
During war, there is not much time to focus on the self, as the survival of the group is of most importance (I hope you are thinking of the ants right now!). But during times of peace, people begin to focus more on specialization and following their hearts. This leads to growth in all areas of society–technological, economical, societal, etc.
And because the people can see with their own eyes the growth, after such a long period of stagnation and destruction, they might naturally begin to believe that it is all because of what man can do for himself.
The little lesson on social growth aside, the cultural climate of the Nephite lands at this time is one of growth. Especially in the church. We read in Helaman 3: 25 that:
“…so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.”
This all occurs within the space of three years. However, within those three years, something begins to happen to the people, these people who have been so blessed with security and spiritual gifts.
There was “…exceedingly great pride…and it was because of their exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day.”
(Helaman 3: 36)
It isn’t long after that that the Lamanites appear on the horizon again and bring war back into the lives of the Nephites. In fact, Mormon, in his abridgment of these records suggests that the sole cause of this new set of battles occurred due to the:
“…pride of their hearts…withholding …from the hungry…denying the spirit of prophecy…rising up in great contentions.
And because of this their great wickedness, and their boasting in their own strength, they were left in their own strength…”
Now let’s get one thing straight before we go forward. I do not think that Mormon, or myself for that matter, is calling out wealth as evil. I think that Mormon is suggesting that the love of wealth is a cause of pride. I think that the point Mormon is trying to make here is that PRIDE turns one’s heart inwards and creates an individual focus, rather than allowing us to clearly see that we are all individuals having a communal experience.
And did you notice that one key phrase:
“…boasting in their own strength, they were left in their own strength…”
(Helaman 4: 13)
That is what I am talking about. When we turn our focus inwards, whether we are boasting in our own strength, or wallowing in our own grief, we are essentially choosing to forget that God’s grace is great enough to overcome all things. We cannot do it ourselves, and we are surely not alone.
ICE CREAM SOCIAL EXPERIMENT
I can provide you with the perfect example. I am even a little bit ashamed to say that it involves myself and a heaping helping of the “Why Me’s?!”
So here I go admitting that for the past few months I have been feeling a little under the weather spiritually. I have been so confused about what I feel God’s plan is for me that I just might have convinced myself that He didn’t really care about me as much as maybe He did for the next guy. I had convinced myself so well that, I believe, it stopped me from being able to hear His voice and gentle guidance.
But I just could not pull myself out of the funk. Even though I knew that I had created my own downward spiral, I simply did not want to make the climb upwards.
And then I read a post on Facebook from a friend who was sharing and venting about her own legitimate trials. I felt a little numb as I read her words. There was nothing that I could do to solve her problems. I couldn’t even think of anything in my own life that measured up.
So, I did what any cheeky friend would do, I suggested that she eat some chocolate ice-cream and drown her sorrows.
And that’s when my conscience went into overdrive.
You see, I hadn’t much felt like serving anyone, really, since I entered into the “Black Funk”. I was so angry at life that I felt like maybe someone should be serving me instead. Ha, how awful. I must apologize for even daring to think such a stupid thought. But, all the same, it was the truth.
Somewhere in the depths of my conscience, I remembered the phrase: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” And in my mind’s eye I kept envisioning the carton of chocolate ice cream I had been carefully saving to eat in my closet all alone that very night.
The two thoughts were so strong that I literally jumped out of my seat and ran to the ice cream. I grabbed my keys and told my husband I would be back in ten minutes. And then I drove.
As I drove over to my friend’s house, I marveled at how strong those impressions were. I told myself how great it was that God loved her enough to send her ice cream. I even wondered why something like that hadn’t happened to me.
But on the way home, something changed in my heart.
Instead of dropping off the ice cream in person, I left it on her doorstep and sent her a text. After getting in my car and driving away, I was almost home before I heard my phone burble with a text notification. I dutifully pulled over and read the text from my friend.
My heart stopped.
She told me about how her husband was out of town, and not only was she stressed out by her trial, her kids were sick and she was all alone.
So, here’s the deal. Ice cream is not a need. But knowing that you are going to get through even just the night is.
And I suddenly knew right then and there that just being part of this experience was God’s way of showing me that he knew my heart and heard my prayers. He knew that I needed to be answered in a completely different way that what I was expecting.
I needed to forget about being an individual for once and worry about an individual.
And that might not make any sense at all.
But think about the ants.
We can see that each one is unique and individual. And as they go about their daily lives, they, in fact, are a separate being. But when their dirt hits the fan, they unite. They become one. Their first response is to serve another.
What if we did the same thing?
What if we turned outward instead of inward. What if we decided we were unique because we were part of a whole?
What if pride never entered the picture?
What if we actually believed that God’s grace could help us build anything or anyone up? Or tear down any amount of grief or pain?
Oh, the What If’s!!!
It is so good to be back with all of you. I hope that as we move into this next phase of seasonal excitement that we stand back and focus on the ‘What if’s’ instead of the ‘Why me’s?’ or the ‘Look at me’s!’.
And please, remember the ants. Always remember the ants!
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.