Sometimes I feel so disappointed with myself. So, I have a good chat with myself and feel all motivated and reset goals and try to organize my time differently. I feel good to go. But then, the time for an appointed task comes and goes. I acknowledge that it’s the time to do that task. But I still don’t do it and the task remains undone. Why?
My goals and expectations aren’t unreasonable. Whenever I complete my daily list I feel so great about myself and my surroundings. But apparently, that positive reinforcement is not enough.
My dog’s trained us to put cheese in his homemade dog food. Anthony added it once as a treat and now Stig won’t eat any food without cheese in it. It took us a few meals to figure out why he wasn’t eating. When Anthony added cheese again to help entice Stig to eat, Stig immediately devoured the whole bowl.
Now, Stig eats every bit of food around the cheese and then stops. To him, if there’s no cheese, there’s no food. Even if he’s still hungry, he won’t eat the rest of the food. He’ll move back from the bowl, stare at the cheese-less food, then go lay down—still hungry and not completely satisfied.
I guess the cheese in my bowl is something that absolutely needs to be done—scripture study, prayer, going to church, temple attendance, varying degrees of work, varying degrees of magnifying my calling. I do those things and stare at the rest of the bowl—apathetically–until I just walk away.
Like Stig, I check the bowl periodically for more cheese. Eating that cheese brings happiness to my life. When the cheese is back, I dive into action mode…until it’s gone.
To be honest, I’ve always been a stretching, searching soul trying to ultimately be like Jesus. I probably won’t ever be absolutely satisfied until I’ve safely entered His rest.
I feel a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction in my mediocre behavior. Sure, I’m doing all the “right” things, but even in those I could be experiencing more of a fullness of joy. My day-to-day actions show that I’m on autopilot and my soul’s challenging me to choose something besides autopilot and mediocrity.
My body and mind feels better when I exercise. My soul feels liberated when the house is clean. My brain ecstatically exhales when I complete an item on my endless project lists.
So what ancient story can I turn to for help and insight?
Tormented Shouldn’t Be the Comfort Zone
Jacob noticed his people were on autopilot. They were covenant people. He met and taught them in the temple. I love his dramatic, check-your-soul rebuke. “O my brethren..arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death and loose yourselves from the pains of hell….”
First, I need to check my pulse. Am I awake? Am I engaged? Am I sluffing some of the to-dos because I legitimately need a break? Are the to-dos eternally important?
Do I like the pains of hell more than following through with my positive intentions? On a superficial level, I feel tormented walking into an unkempt kitchen. But, sometimes, despite the torment, instead of cleaning the kitchen, I just turn around and walk out.
I feel tormented when I realize I’ve forgotten to follow through on a prompting. But, sometimes I may still push it off until later because I’m doing something else. So, it kind of seems that maybe I’m getting a little too accustomed to the torment. How sad to admit that apparently torment is my new comfort zone.
I Am Doing a Great Work
I love a story about Nehemiah. Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem with authority to rebuild the city’s walls. Nehemiah overcame neighbor attacks and kept the wall-building at a hefty pace. He tracked everyone who contributed to building the wall.
Then, except for the gates, the wall is finished. Nehemiah’s opposers scheme mischief against him. They ask him to leave his efforts. I absolutely love his response: “And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?”
Nehemiah would not be distracted in his efforts. I, on the other hand, am pretty distractable—better things disrupt my goals for best things. And some best things still displace other best things, when actually everything could be done if there were some kind of order. I really struggle with not letting my church calling interrupt other necessary and best things.
We had a Relief Society meeting in July about time management. And the presenter, Kathie, said, essentially, that “someone else’s emergency is not your emergency.” As I plan my day jointly with the Lord, He can help me maneuver through the busyness, distractions, and emergencies to actually conquer the most needful things.
Antonyms of distraction? Certainty, assurance, confidence, conviction, restfulness, peace, tranquility. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”
Strengthen My Hands
Nehemiah’s distractors tried other tactics, but couldn’t deter Nehemiah. To their threat to falsely accuse him to the king, Nehemiah noted, “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart. For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.”
I suffer from priority paralysis. When my system’s overloaded, I seek a respite, often by ignoring things I want to get done that impact the smallest number of people. Unfortunately, those projects are usually the ones that are the dearest to my soul…my life’s purpose…the fan to my flame of passion and excitement. And, so my soul’s yearnings are put on hold while I tend to other people’s emergencies.
The thing is, is I am standing before my King, accountable for the purposes He’s given to me. I succumb too often to things other people tell me are important, trying to help everyone, instead of asking God to strengthen my hands– weakened from work, fear, or priority paralysis—to accomplish the most important things He’s asked me to accomplish. Of course those purposes include the people around me, but, they also include those promptings given to my soul that may be my truest gifts to the world.
This Work Was Wrought of God
Finally, his enemies hired someone Nehemiah knew, a prophet. The false prophet told Nehemiah that his enemies were going to try to kill him and Nehemiah should use the inner courts of the temple to save himself. But, the spirit of discernment told Nehemiah that the prophecy was false and a trap.
“And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.”
What such a man was he? He professed to be a disciple of the Lord. Nehemiah ignored distractions, threats against reputation, and an obvious threat on his life. The covenants he made with God enabled the Holy Ghost to lead him. He pressed forward unafraid and clear in his intention, in his calling and purpose.
After only 52 days, Nehemiah and friends finished the wall. What an amazing feat! “And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.”
Magnify Callings for the Covenant’s Sake
One Sunday in Ward Conference, our Stake President said, “We magnify our callings not for the calling’s sake. We magnify our callings for the covenant’s sake.” Nehemiah’s story teaches me that. He would not be distracted or fearful because he focused on his covenant.
In his emotional prayer to the Lord at the beginning of his story, Nehemiah quoted God’s promise, “But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I … will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.” And where is that? His holy house, His abode, His temple, His kingdom.
A favorite scripture, put on a tile and prominently set on my bathroom counter where I see it multiple times a day, declares “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” And, so I remember that really, I need to see beyond the cheese, and even the bowl, to the whole banquet.
My frustration isn’t because I’m not accomplishing tasks on my to-do list. Ultimately, my frustration stems from not maintaining a clear, intentional focus bolstered by daily conversation with and direction from my Heavenly Father.
May the daily task list become a source of joy, opportunity and anticipation. I believe it can because, with God, we are all doing a great work.