Thursday, January 29, 2009

Defining the undefinable

I have spent a large portion of my mental powers over the last oh, 15 years or so, trying to come up with a good definition of love. For some reason I have never been able to accept that it is just a feeling. I deal best with absolutes, so naturally something as undefinable as love belongs in a defined little box, right? umm, not so much. I would love it (no punning) if it worked that way but it doesn't.

The best definition that I came up with was putting another's needs before your own. However, that doesn't always quite fit the bill. As I have gotten older and expanded my horizons I have found that love is a great deal more than that. I used to classify it into, love love, sibling/parent love, friend love, you know when people say "I love him like a brother, but not like that." What they are really saying is "I do not find you particularly attractive and I would rather not mate."

In case you haven't guessed, the second section of the Road Less Traveled is on love. So why do we think we fall in love? We don't fall into it, we fall in attraction, but that doesn't sound nearly so blissful. The fact is that we choose to love. When the rose colors of the honeymoon time fades, we choose to love our spouse, or not. I am so grateful that I was never naive enough to go full out for the "O, I'm in love!" gushy kind of thing. I knew when I was dating David that this was it. It was our second date and on the way home I realized I was leaving for college in three weeks and I cried. I could not imagine leaving him. A little off topic, but you get the idea.

M. Scott Peck wrote two things about love that really struck me. The first is his definition of it:

"Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth"

Love is not physical. It isn't even about the physical body. We had love before we came here and got our bodies. Love is a spiritual thing. Our bodies don't love, our spirits do. For some reason this seems profound to me. We are surrounded by a culture that focuses entirely on the physical attraction that precedes love and they call it love. It is so easy growing up with books and movies and tv shows to have a warped view of what love is. Thankfully we also have the gospel and the only example of perfect love in our Savior Jesus Christ. He loved us. He was willing to sacrifice Himself for the spiritual progression of all His siblings. That is love.

"Love is an act of will"

Christ didn't just wish he could help everyone. He didn't love us up to a point. He gave His will over to our Father in Heaven. Love is not a spectator sport, it's not passive. When we love, we show that love by our words and our deeds. I am always reminded of the end of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In the Return of the King, where Frodo and Sam are struggling up the mountain, exhausted beyond words, and tired, and scared and knowing that they will probably die soon. I cannot recall if the words are in the book ( I only read it once) but the movie is very powerful. Frodo stumbles and Sam who knows he cannot carry the burden of the ring, carries Frodo the rest of the way up. It moves me every time. That was love. Love prompts us to do amazing things, or really simply barely noticeable things. It doesn't matter if what we do is grand and heroic or quiet and simple. What matters is that we do it. That we choose to act on our love for another.

Clearly Sam and Frodo were not married, nor were they related, so I am most certainly not speaking of married relationships here. Every person out there has someone they can love if they choose to. I used to think when general authorities would get up and say how much they love all of us, that that just wasn't possible. They don't even know my name, how could they profess to love me. I think I am starting to get it more now. They love me simply because I am. They are doing their jobs everyday as an act of will to help my spiritual growth.

This is fascinating stuff, I just barely started section two of the book, there will be more . . .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Who doesn't love Jane Austen?

Wait! Before any male readers run for the hills, I feel impressed to mention that this is not going to be a sappy, gooey, lovey kind of post. Really, Jane Austen was so much more than that.

I have always professed to love Jane Austen books, but until last year I had only read Pride and Prejudice. Then I read Persuasion and now I have finished Mansfield Park. Both are great. And for you guys out there, Mansfield Park has very little "Oh, Mr. Darcy," kind of stuff that we females love, so even you might enjoy it.

Each of Austen's books focuses on a character trait or two that could be considered to be faults or virtues. Pride and Prejudice is obvious, Persuasion also, and clearly Sense and Sensibility. Some of her others were more unobtrusively titled. Mansfield Park fits into that category being as it is titled after the main residence of most of the characters in the book. Of course, now that I think about it, there is deeper meaning to the title, in that Mansfield Park represents a sense of propriety and how that sense is either used or ignored. hmm . . . .

The main focus is really a nature versus nurture debate. Can a person who is born in a lowly, impoverished family rise to become dignified and proper? Is it also possible that one who is born into a family of wealth could become a disgrace to said family? Obviously yes, or there wouldn't be a book. Near the end of the novel the father of the main family begins to question his parenting. Of his four children, his eldest son ran rampant, ending up deathly ill after causing his parents a good deal of emotional and financial hardship. His eldest daughter married a man she did not love and then ran off with another man, hoping he would marry her and ended up divorced from the first and unwelcome in the family home. The second daughter, and youngest of the children, eloped with a man considered to be of less than desirable character and was eventually welcomed back home but not before much duress had been endured on all sides. If I were the father I would start to question myself too. Add to this mix, the second son who stayed true to good principles and lived honorably, and the niece (also the heroine) who followed in the footsteps of the second son. This niece was brought to live with the family when all the children were in the double digit preteen to teen range. She came from lowly circumstances and yet turned out to be one of the most refined of the five children who grew up together.

So the next time we start to question ourselves in our parenting, remind yourself, that it is possible that no matter what we do as parents, some children will simply make wrong choices. Why does one child internalize good principles and another disregard them? Who knows! So is it nature or is it nurture? Personally I think it has to be both. We all come here to this earth with our unique personalities. Add to that the conditions of the formative years be they good or bad, and we turn out to be who we choose to be. We make the choice. What drives us to make a choice for good or bad? I don't know. That could get very deep and philosophical, but that might hurt my head. The point is that we choose. We choose who we will be and others choose who they will be. There is very little that we can do for others beyond being a good example. I can tell and show my children how to act, but I can't force them to do what I want them to, believe me I have tried! I think the lesson that the father in Mansfield Park may have missed was to love unconditionally. Love your children, and others, no matter what choices they make.

The other really good point to remember is that a little suffering goes a long way. Some strife and humble pie can help to produce a person who is truly stellar in character. However, to my dear dad, moving piles of rocks around the yard is not character building, just obnoxious. It did however provide some teaching lesson of obedience. We did not know why the rocks needed to be moved again, but we were told to do it and we did. Obviously obeying our parents, earthly and heavenly has great benefits that we cannot see at the time of obedience. Now if I can just convince my kids of that . . .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Life is Difficult

That is the very beginning of A Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. I think he borrowed it from Buddha or Confucius, I can't recall which (I started the book awhile ago). For some reason I have spent a great deal of my life being very, very negative. Looking back I am amazed that I managed to get David to marry me. I know the Lord had it planned and that's probably why it all happened the way that it did. Still, even up until recently I spent a good deal of my time in a bad mood about this, that or the other thing. It was either the kids, or David, or church, or just about anything I could blame for my unhappiness. I was never silly enough to say "well, if this was just different . . " But deep down, I think that was what I was thinking. That somehow, if or when something changed I would be happier, life would be easier, I would be able to handle it.

That's not how it works. I have been waiting for a turning point for a few years. I knew someday something would happen that would change me, for the better. Things have been leading up to it for sometime. One day in December (I don't recall which one because my medication really does mess with my head) I decided I was interested in reading A Road Less Traveled. I had read a lot of excerpts of Peck's work in a college english class and I picked up the book from a library freebie table a few years back. I always meant to read, but had yet to actually get to it.

For some reason reading the first chapter of the book beginning with Life is Difficult has changed me. I guess that is what great books are meant to do, change us, make us better. This is what I learned.

Life is hard. It always has been and it always will be. That is the way it was meant to be. With that knowledge we are all given two choices. We can choose to be happy, or not. I used to choose not. I realized that I didn't have to spend my life being unpleasant and yelling at my kids. I could enjoy my life. I could enjoy my family. I could let annoying drivers, obnoxious church members and other pesky things just roll off my back. I needed to stop carrying everyone else's problems. I am not sure exactly how I figured this all out, but it must have happened on a very deep level, because I haven't slipped back. Just so be clear I am not Mary Sunshine or anything, but I feel better inside. My heart is not so heavy as it once was. I am scratching the tip of the tip of the iceberg of learning how to lay my burdens at the feet of the Savior. He already suffered for all of this. Every bad day, every cross word, every hurt feeling has been felt. Why prolong the pain?

It would be like going to the grocery store every week and paying for a gallon of milk that someone already drank and refusing to acknowledge that the milk is gone. It's gone, let it go!

I still get mad sometimes, like when I rush my dear Luke (15 months) out of Sacrament meeting, walk down the hall and listen to him scream for 10 minutes straight. Yeah, that was rather annoying to say the least. Six months ago that would have ruined my day. I would have been crabby and snappy, and for what? For fear of annoying/offending other members? Out of frustration at not being able to control my child? There would be no point to being angry about something I could not control. I did my best to quiet, calm and comfort him, but he wanted his father and as soon as he got him he was fine. Yes, I still get mad, but I am learning to let it go much faster.

I love feeling happier. I know that scriptures and prayer have a good deal to do with helping my mood and abilities, but with or without that it is still up to me to decide how I will react, what I will feel. We have the ability to decide how we will feel and how we will react. It's hard, very, very hard, but anything really worth doing is most likely going to be hard to do.

So life is hard, but I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The only constant is change

I am pretty sure that someone famous said that, but I am not really sure who. Regardless of that it is profoundly true. Not just in a yeah, we all think so kind of way, but in a soul rattling deep down undeniable knowing kind of way.

Everything changes, all the time.

Seasons change.
Times change.
Styles change.
Bodies change. (boy can I tell you!)
People change.
Hearts change.
Lives change.

Every day, every moment change is occuring. We can't stop it, we can only try to keep up with it and deal with it as best as we can.

Sometimes I think the last nine years of my life have been a whirlwind. It's gone by so fast, though everyday feels like eternity and not in a good way. Many of the changes that I have dealt with I was prepared for, but countless others I was not.

Now I am experiencing more changes, some of which are unpleasant, and unwelcome. Some are unexpected but good at the same time. My health is changing, much to my dismay. My marriage is changing. My attitude and outlook are changing. My heart is trying to change. I want to change, I want to be different that I am right now. I want some of what I have lost.

I know I will never get back to where I was, but I am hopeful that I can get to a better place than where I am now and better even than where I was.