At the beginning of 2012 a wise physical therapist asked me a thought- provoking question: “Why do you think that having less pain, more energy, and more functional hours will solve so many of your problems?” Those were my stated goals for treatment, and what I really wanted.
Ironically, 2012 brought me just the opposite: more pain, far, far, less energy (partly because of an extreme thyroid problem that is still not resolved), and by far the fewest functional hours I’ve ever had.
2012 gave me what I needed, not what I wanted. In the 23rd Psalm we read, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures . . .” The Lord never forces, however, so how does He make us lie down in green pastures? Green means growth; I had always felt I had to be up and moving in order to be growing. However, when I have been “made” to lie down, I have learned that illness carves out precious time to ponder and pray and ask for understanding and wisdom. Consequently, it often provides a green of pasture of growth. This year I have been humbled, stopped in my tracks, totally unable to continue my constant running and hurrying and pushing and stressing and overdoing. I suspect the Lord simply allowed the natural consequences of my choices, which brought me exhaustion and weakness like I’ve never experienced.
Here are some of the lessons I’m slowly learning from it:
Inner peace does not come from being able to do everything I want to do. It comes from surrendering my life to the Lord, accepting what is, and honestly saying, “Thy will be done.”
I’m learning that the root cause of my illness is not physical, although the physical consequences are very real. After a few months of being homebound, I returned to my physical therapist. He suggested that, “nothing physical will fix this-no treatment, medication, diet, or exercise. As long as you have core beliefs that put you in conflict, that conflict drains your energy and causes the body to break down.”
Examples of core beliefs I have suffered from are: “I am defined by what I do,” “it is never okay to rest unless I am so sick or exhausted that I have no alternative,” and “my worth to people lies only in what I can do for them.” For many years I’ve recognized that this “performance equals worth” syndrome is simply not based on truth and I have worked to counter these false beliefs. Like peeling an onion, I’ve progressed from layer to layer, each time thinking “I finally got it!” However, such deeply engrained, subconscious beliefs programmed since childhood are remarkably hard to let go of. In 2013 I’ll keep praying for deeper deliverance because my whole heart desires to be aligned with truth.
Productivity is Not Happiness
Somewhere along the line the concepts of “mortal probation” and “this life is a test” became distorted in my mind to become a false belief that I am on trial every minute and that I’m failing the test of life if I don’t use each minute “productively.” This also led to the false belief that time is so important that only when I am up and doing something am I passing the test.
Contrast those stress-causing beliefs with gospel truth in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The Lord hasn’t burdened me with a heavy yoke and left me to plow alone. He invites me to join Him in a double yoke, which is light because the major burden is carried by Him. He has all the strength I lack. He makes up the difference of all I can’t do. My weakness can become my strength as I lean on Him.
God is a God of Love
God is a God of love, compassion, and joy. When I am following the Spirit and walking in the Savior’s footsteps, I have some measure of those positive feelings, instead of pressure and stress and the feeling I can never do enough. Satan’s tools are shame, inappropriate guilt, and fear. Those are not appropriate ways to deal with myself. When I’m using those tools against myself, I am not walking in the light of the Lord but listening to the adversary. I can cast Satan out of my mind and follow the Lord’s pattern of encouragement, light, building on strengths, repenting daily, and moving on.
Having a myriad of positive options does not mean the more I can do the better I am. It means that my choices reflect the true intent of my soul. The fewer functional hours I have, the more meaningful the choices become. For instance, if I have only one discretionary hour today, what I choose to do with it is obviously a very important indicator of my true values. But what counts most is whether my choices are directed by the Spirit and whether I walk with the Savior in that hour and help with His purposes or run off doing my own ego-inspired tasks.
Regardless of my inability to function, I can choose in the moment to feel peace by turning my thoughts to gratitude. Little by little I’m learning to avoid the downward spiral to depression by focusing my thoughts on the Savior and expressing gratitude. For instance, I thank the Lord for angel’s help for my loved ones. I know they each have assigned angels to get them through their various trials. I know there is purpose in all pain and that the Lord will see them through. I know they are choice spirits, sent here on this earth at this particular time for a specific purpose and that the Lord will help them fill their purpose regardless of setbacks and trials. To avoid worry, I rehearse all these things and remember all the things that are right in my life and in their lives.
Joy in Living
I’m learning to see the truth that whether my health improves or not I can find joy in living. I’ve been promised in blessings that I will have the health and strength to fill my life’s mission. Whether that requires a lot of physical strength or a little, the Lord will give me exactly what I need. He would not require the impossible. The Lord will lead me to solutions or heal me if that is necessary in order for me to complete my life’s mission. But He will not perform miracles to help me walk on water I am not assigned to walk on. If the Refiner’s Fire of more weakness is what I need, that’s what I’ll get, and my job is to accept whatever comes and learn from it.
What matters is being fully alive in this moment, being in the now. All I have is the present moment. Doing the best I can and being present in this moment and feeling joy in this moment whenever I can is all I can shoot for. I can’t control what happens in the future, but I can control how I feel right now by choosing what to focus on and tuning into the Spirit.
What counts is being really alive regardless of my level of capability and being receptive to the promptings and guidance of the Spirit and letting go of everything else.
My goals for the New Year seem clear!
I thank the Lord for what I continue to learn from choice friends. For example, I have a friend who gives me support and love and the light of her fine example in facing extreme trials. Debbie Avila, whom I have never met, is in the final stages of muscular dystrophy and has been bedfast and on a respirator in her home in California for many years. She requires nursing care 24/7. After losing ability to use most of her other muscles, she is now losing the ability to chew and swallow and is constantly hungry and in pain. I can’t even imagine. Two things she can still do: read and research on the computer (she hasn’t the strength to hold a book or turn pages), and slowly type because she still has partial use of her right hand. Yet with such extreme limitations, she has blessed my life in the past few months more than I can express. I consider a communication from her a great gift. Most recently she shared the following email, which began with two references:
“This being the beginning of a new year, my heart is filled with gratitude to God that he has preserved my life, and the lives of my family, while another year has passed away. We have been sustained and upheld in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, although exposed to all the afflictions, temptations, and misery that are incident to human life; for this I feel to humble myself in dust and ashes, as it were, before the Lord” (History of the Church 2:352).
“Philippians 3:13 This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before . . .’
Debbie then commented, “Paul understood the need to leave behind the old, that which has been repented and forgiven, the traditions that had misdirected his footsteps and, stretch forward in abiding faith and hope toward the promises, the inevitable and, the inescapable love that Jesus offers as daily manna.
“Looking back has its benefits, but yesterday’s water cannot quench today’s thirst. It can be warm waves that wash over our toes, but not baptize our whole self in the serene serenade of what God has planned for us in this day.’
“My New Year resolutions are, More of the basics-i.e., more faith in Christ, more hope in Christ, more earnest praying, more patience and, more unwavering obedience. One of my most beloved hymns spells it out best: More Holiness Give Me.’
“More holiness give me, more strivings within. More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin. More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care. More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer. More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord. More zeal for His glory, more hope in His Word. More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief. More meekness in trial, more praise for relief. More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome, More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home. More fit for the kingdom, more used would I be, More blessed and holy, more, Savior, like Thee” (Hymns, no. 131).
Debbie finished her communication with the following words (and remember, this is from a woman who has been literally unable to DO any of the ordinary tasks of life for decades and is facing a very uncertain future): “May the conclusion of this eventful year open a threshold of wiser choices for each one of my loved ones. I plan to await it with a good book, good music and prayer: this will harness the yesterday yearnings of my soul, and move my heart’s rhythm toward Tomorrow. I’m learning to lose my life in finding new doors of studying the word of God. This feels wonderful to me! With this I conclude so I can go sit at my Master’s feet and choose again the one needful thing.’ Thank God for every good thing sent, received and delivered to us through His Son, the Wonderful One!”
In the Lectures on Faith we find, “We understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force. It is by words, instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith.” May 2013 be a year when we all work more by faith and words of faith, and that we hold our hearts open for all the lessons the Lord would have us learn.
Note: To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com. For ebook format, go to Amazon.com.