Written May 8th, 11:30pm:
A few years back I was in the checkout line with my two older kids at Target. In front of me, the little boy probably three or four years old in his hipster digs was giving his mom the “I want, I want, I want” treatment. And she turned to him, with her perfectly coiffed hair and manicure, and said with a smirk and completely seriously, “Yeah, well Mommy wants a Bentley, and I don’t have one!” And she turned back and continued talking on her phone while the poor woman checking her out was ignored. When we got out to our car, I saw her loading her kids and groceries into a very nice BMW, nicer than any car I’ve dreamed of having.
This has become a bit of a long-running joke in our house, because of course I told my husband immediately. Now every time we hear someone doing the entitlement oneupmanship of first world magnitude, we give each other that look and say, “Oh yeah, well I want a Bentley!”
Matt has been out of town a lot lately, and with two sick kids during trip, I’ve been getting 2-3 hours of sleep a night. While I’m trying to keep it together, I’m not sure I’m succeeding, my patience is running short. Tonight during family scripture reading well past bedtime, child #3 was attacking the scriptures and #2 was wriggling in total distraction. I read two verses planning to call it sufficient, walk out of the room, and check-off the scripture study box. But somehow that little window of opportunity eeked opened and #1 and I talked about what I’d read. Alma 1:26-28:
26 …and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.
27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
28 And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions.
I hope you find these verses to be powerful, especially the first, regardless of your affiliation. As we talked about it, my son (almost six) told me he’d been praying for opportunities to find ways to give to others, to serve them, expressing a desire and willingness even to give his money to people who didn’t have any. Naturally, I was confused and floored, since in all my age and wisdom and learning I don’t pray for half those opportunities. After I regained composure and picked myself up, we talked about how his money was important to save right now, but that it was important to take opportunities to serve others, to be kind and neighborly, to get doors for the umpteen million women at church, to help with groceries and be polite.
(I promise I’m going to tie this all together. Stay with me.)
Lastly, I’ve been reflecting on a meeting with our stake president two years ago Cinco de Mayo, before he called Matt to be the Bishop of our ward. I remember him asking if I was willing to share my husband with the ward (for this post’s sake, let’s equate husband with substance, since he is mine after all, right?). Five years prior, when Matt was called to his first bishopric, our then-bishop half-jokingly told me Matt and I were too cuddly and had to be separated. And so, for six of the last seven years, we have sat apart at Church, him on the stand and me wrangling children. In addition, he spends countless hours and days outside of Sunday worship counseling, supporting, conducting, aiding, and serving.
When the Stake President asked me to share my “substance”, I had no idea what I was agreeing to. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know to what degree. And there have been blessings, great ones I’m sure, but sometimes I cry and wish I’d said no. I’m human, mortal and very, very tired, and sometimes very, very selfish. I am not justifying, just explaining.
But then I realize, in the midst of all my chaos, that to others I must sound very much like the woman in Target – I WANT A BENTLEY! I’m laughing at myself right now, because my complaints of fatigue, loneliness, and anxiety, though real, are from doing very good things. The kinds of things that make life worth living.
Life isn’t about awesomeness all the time. It isn’t about me getting my way, about that perfect, idyllic life, but about becoming a better person. And at least I know I improve when I give more of myself and learn to love as God does – and it invariably comes back for the better. Call it Karma if you’d prefer.
Verse 28 talks about having “continual peace”. I could chase dreams, do cool things and get high-fives for being smart, mark things off my non-existent bucket list, even get a big house and a Bentley, but there’s a good chance it wouldn’t make me happier than having “continual peace”. And maybe I’ll still do or have many of those things – they aren’t inherently bad, and maybe I won’t. But I definitely won’t be happier if I dwell on them or make them my focus.
An Authentic Life isn’t about doing and having what I want all the time, but about doing what’s best. And being a believer in a loving Father, my guess is He’s got a better idea of what I need than I have.