Thursday, July 4, 2013

Patience and Perfection

We recently discussed a talk on 'Patience" by President Dieter Uchtdof in our Family Home Evening.  Our discussion focussed particularly on the importance of applying patience to the journey we all have as we work our way toward perfection.  We noted that many people are so burdened by feelings of inadequacy and a lack of belief in themselves that it's especially hard to continue on in the face of repeated failures to accomplish perfection.

So I wanted to pass on a thought I've had about our need to be patient with ourselves:

toddler walking stages

Babies, children, toddlers are wonderful!  They try, and try, and fall or fail, and try again, until they 'get it'.  We know that eventually, they will walk, talk, toilet themselves, say 'Mummy, I love you'; even learn to ride a bike, swim across the pool, and read by themselves.  Eventually, their toes will touch the floor while they are sitting on the pew in church; their fingers will eventually reach the doorknob, the top of the doorway, (and sometimes, in the case of teenage boys straining to be picked for the basketball team), the ceiling.  These things will all, in the normal course of life, always be achieved, just as surely as a 10 kilo snack of chocolate is going to show up on the scales.   

Babies don't ever ponder the possibility of failure.  It just never seems to occur to them!  So they keep trying, until they do advance; achieve; succeed.  And we take their eventual success just as much for granted; we also believe that their destiny is to be successful.  (Except for the universal proviso of young mums who sometimes wonder if their child will ever sleep through, or ever be toilet-trained, or stop wetting the bed.  They will  :)

Little Ballerina's Dream painting by Roberta Martin

To look at a baby or a small child, it could seem incredible that they will be able to accomplish so many intricate, fabulous things one day.  Except that we know what is possible, and probable, because we have already managed it ourselves.  How sad it would be to ever see a baby just give up on trying - to walk, or talk, or feed themselves, knowing as we do know, the progress that would have occurred if they had just continued their efforts.   

I wonder if this is the way that Heavenly Father looks at us.  He sees us fall over, again and again, and I think that His response probably somewhat mirrors our response to our own children: a warm and vitally interested desire to encourage and support, and a feeling of overwhelming love for the child: walking or not; successful or, not just yet.  Perhaps He loves us in the same way that we love our babies, even when they can't do anything much yet!  Perhaps He smiles understandingly, as we occasionally do, when the baby who is learning to sit up, puddles over onto their side, or sometimes falls flat on their face, or even when one throws a tantrum.  Maybe it really doesn't bother Him that much that it takes us a while to learn what we need to - since He knows that eventually, with His help, we will, inevitably, succeed - if we will only choose to disregard all notions of failure.

Girls at Piano Part Trois by ~padraig13 on deviantART

I remember with a lot of loving humour the picture of our oldest daughter, Tammy, learning to play her first piano piece for the Beginner's exam.  She sat at our piano each day, plonking out the few simple notes, trying over and over again to play the childish tune, before throwing her hands to her eyes and crying, with real anguish one day, "I can't do it, I just can't do it!  I'll NEVER be able to learn this - it's too hard!"   

Fast forward to her seventeenth year, to the exceptionally difficult and lovely music pieces she practised each day then, in preparation for her Diploma of Music exam.   How wonderful it was to hear her filling our home with such intricate and beautiful melodies..

How wonderful to know that our stumbling, occasionally faltering, and even our sometimes emotionally hysterical attempts now to sound a tune, are one day, most certainly, if we 'continue in patience', destined to become performances of great beauty too!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Importance of Beauty?

My grandmother once told me most sincerely that she considers the most beautiful woman in the world to be Queen Elizabeth.  I was surprised at the time.   I believe that what Gran saw as beautiful was the queen's great sense of duty as much as her graciousness and comeliness. 

It seems to me that the best people I have ever met or known of have not generally been the best looking.   Not that I have anything against good looks - I appreciate and enjoy beauty very much, but it's just one part of what we can be, and surely not an overly important part, when all is considered. 

I wonder if our modern world is so replete with an over-abundance of human images everywhere, (in mirrors, reflective windows and other surfaces; in photographs and pictures, in magazines, on posters, in advertising, through media, etc, etc, etc), that we've become hyper-sensitive to this one aspect of humanity - giving it an importance far beyond what it deserves. 

Added to that is our modern way of interacting with many people each day only by viewing them and having them view us, usually very briefly, as we quickly pass one another along our busy way.  The impression we are able to make upon others is therefore reliant upon what they see in that one brief glimpse. There's some pressure!  We are evaluated time and again by only our appearance. 

Before escalated population growth and the miracles of modern transport, most people lived all of their lives among a relatively small community of people in an often quite limited geographical area.  People got to know each other for who they really were in those circumstances.   Perhaps looks were less important in a situation where the way you acted had greater relevance.  A beautiful soul could perhaps be truly appreciated only under such a sustained and discerning light.

I suppose another factor in our over-concern with personal appearance is our over-abundance of free time.  If I had to work longer and harder each day, I doubt I'd be spending so much time worrying about my looks, or anyone else's.    You know those lovely, wrinkled and weathered faces we sometimes see in National Geographic photos of aged peasants?  Those faces look like they've got more on their minds than just visage, don't you think?   

I sometimes consider that the Saviour of the world was described with the words: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."  Physical beauty does not appear to be a requisite for true greatness, goodness, valour, usefulness or capacity.  Strange then, that it has assumed so much importance!

Considering a little about why I worry so much about appearance is not, unfortunately, the same as not worrying about it anymore...  But perhaps it helps a little :)

Climbing Mountains

I only ever went on one school camp, that I can remember. It was when I was about 15 years old and in year 10. Our grade of about 300 students traveled up from Adelaide to stay in cabin accommodation in the South Australian Flinders Ranges. The highlight of our week was to be a climb to the top of the highest point in the Ranges, St. Mary's Peak.

I was worried leading up to the day we were to make the climb.  I was very skinny back then, and not particularly strong.  I was afraid that I might embarrass myself in front of all the other students by being too weak to make it to the top.  The teachers took us to a hill near our camp on the day before the climb, as a kind of practice.  I remember making it only part of the way up before I sat down, puffing, feeling exhausted, and quite hopeless about my prospects for the next day.

The climb up St. Mary's began with a gentle walk for the first few kilometres.  We were in single file, and I wasn't doing well from the first.  I was about two thirds of the way back in the line of students and teachers, and failing fast.  It didn't look as if I would get very far.  So - I put on a big burst of strength in order to pass all of the people in front of me, until I reached the front of the line.  Eventually, I was one of only nine people to reach the top of the mountain, and was the only girl or woman to get there.

It was good to stand on the peak and spend some moments enjoying the view.  It was wonderful to know that I had achieved the goal, and had not dropped out along the way.  Surprising that so many had. More than that though, I learned a lesson that has helped me out many times since.

I have no doubt that had I stayed back in the line, I would have failed to get very far.  By getting out in front of the crowd, the rest of the line seemed to propel me forward, actually bolstering me with the strength I needed to get to the top.  I realize that everyone is different - that perhaps line position would not have been so pivotal in importance to others. But it was for me.  Why?  It just seemed easier when I could see the goal ahead clearly, and did not feel that I was being held back by anyone, or that I had to travel at someone else's pace.  It was easier to be succeeding than it would have been to be failing.

I was reminded of my experience with this some years later, when I read the story of 'The Five Dollar Lawn', as retold by Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone in Conference, 1973.  If you would like to read it the story is here.

I really love that story!  It seems to echo my own experience, and now my belief, that we have to aim for the highest and the best if we hope to succeed with the best of what we have in ourselves;  that failure comes more often from setting our sights too low rather than from aiming too high.

A good brother in a Sunday School class questioned whether aiming for perfection is just too daunting for some. I think that not aiming for perfection is much more so!  I believe that we are children of God, and that eventual perfection is our true and natural endowment.

To achieve that end, I believe in my heart that we need generally to ask more of ourselves, not less.

(This is a reprint)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Inspiration for Perfection

Our women's Relief Society class at church on Sunday was about patience.  One sweet sister made the comment that it is sometimes hard to be patient with yourself when you can see others around you who seem to be so much further ahead and more successful with everything in life than you are. 
 "Don't worry," the kind teacher assured her,  "they just look perfect on the outside.  They have just as many faults and troubles as you!  You know that sister that everyone talks about: the one who bakes her own bread, makes her children's clothes, always has her house tidy, does her scripture reading every day?  She doesn't exist!!"  And many in the class laughed a little and seemed to feel better.  

I remember my wonderful mother-in-law, who was a stake Relief Society president for many years, telling me years ago (when I was a young mother), about a large women's meeting her stake had recently enjoyed.  One of her counsellors spoke about 'this mythical Mormon woman', who seemed Perfect in every way.  "And do you know what?!"  the speaker assured the congregation of mormon women, "she doesn't exist!  And if she did exist, she wouldn't inspire me!  I'm inspired by You!  By your faults!  Because I can't relate to that 'perfect woman'!  I can relate to you!"  My faithful mother-in-law told me how much the talk had meant to all the women there; how much everyone there had loved it.

"I don't think we need to be threatened by perfection,"  I ventured to comment to the teacher on Sunday.  "I think there is so much to learn from each other, and I am so grateful to have examples around me of people who can do so many things better than I do."

"Yes, but if anyone seems to be too perfect, it's just discouraging!" 

What then of the wonderful gift of our Saviour's perfect example, I thought?   Are we to feel badly about ourselves because He was without fault?

Isn't one of the greatest blessings we have here on earth, not only the perfect teachings, but also the perfect example of our Saviour?  Are we not able to take great strength not only from the teachings of our prophets and apostles, but also in great measure from the example of their lives too?  As with the lives of so many other good and great people, both the humble and the feted, that we are so blessed to have around us, or to know something of?

My grandmother's example, for instance, taught me that you really could have a beautiful, perfectly clean, perfectly well-ordered home, and that such a home could provide a strong base for a peaceful family life.  I wouldn't have known that so well if I hadn't seen it modelled in her home.  Other examples I have garnered from friends, leaders, family members, and much-appreciated biographies, have taught me that I can be more loving, more hard-working, more patient, more forgiving, more generous, more brave and valiant, more humble and meek, more studious, more spiritually attuned than what I currently am - and have shown me that perfection, and certainly improvement, is veritably attainable in all these areas.    

I don't find inspiration in under-achievement.  How could I?  I'm already there!  If I am to perfect myself, it won't be from looking to people's faults, or stepping on others, but will be by having kind hands, loving faces, and fine examples before me, to help raise me up.  Before and above all others, we have the example of the Saviour to guide us all.  

Perfection in others is surely the very opposite of discouraging!  If someone else can do it - isn't it likely that you and I can too?  Are we not all children of our loving Heavenly Parents?  Are we not all sent here with the same divine potential, and with the same sure promise of celestial success, according only to our own choices?  

I cannot think of a single person I know who I don't look to for an example in some thing, or that I can't learn from.  I'm constantly amazed and delighted at how truly wonderful people are.  It's a big part of my testimony that we are in reality, all children of God - especially when  I can see and feel the truth of that in the people I come in contact with each day.

I'm always amazed when people fail to know that about themselves - how infinitely special each of us is.

I believe that a lot of the things that we think of as being faults in ourselves and others, are probably somewhat insignificant in the big scheme of eternal everything.  And that a lot of the kindnesses, and courage shown by many every day, are actually more significant than we currently understand - in much the same way that the stumbles of a toddler learning to walk are really just moments along the way to his knowing how to run: important as part of the process, but eventually all but forgotten in the glow of his eventual, sure success - if he keeps trying, that is.

I'm grateful for your good examples!  In so very many ways, you are more creative, more sociable, more diligent, more insightful, more progressed, more all sorts of wonderful things than I am.  I am so grateful that you are!

So!  Please don't hide your perfections under any kind of bushel.   Your shining lights are helping me to find my way forward and upward too  :)


Monday, July 1, 2013

Whatever I Want

"What are you going to do?"  my husband occasionally asks.

"Whatever I want," I smile in reply.

As Abby explained in the previous post, we three all decided not to be committed to this Blog in the same way any more for now.

But occasionally I would still like to write something up.  The difference is that I am just - you guessed it - going to write, or not write, 'whatever I want.'  To be fair, that has always been largely the case of course.  But I plan to be perhaps less circumspect in my topic choices and write more freely about..  whatever I want!  I'd be very happy if you can find anything among it all that is of some worth to you.

(I know I could have started a new Blog, but decided against it.)

What to expect?  Books, thoughts, beliefs, ideas.. a variety of topics.

I love your comments too! :)