Monday, April 1, 2013

Time Takes Time

I once received a phone call from a missionary.  At the time, I was on my mission too - and I had stewardship over this particular missionary.  The phone call was a regularly scheduled event - a means to account for the day's progress.  But this phone call was different.  I've reflected on it for years now.

This missionary was one of 11 kids.  He was really hard working, really dedicated.  He and his companion had been doing well, but had not seen immediate success.  Meanwhile, my companion and I were enjoying a relative harvest.  It seemed strange to me how this young missionary broke down on the phone that night.

He was suffering because he wanted to be better.  He felt like there was more he was supposed to be, and though he was fighting to get there - he just wasn't becoming better fast enough, he said.  My heart went out to the kid.  I knew how new he was to the mission.  And I remember thinking that he was much more focused than I was.  I knew he'd blossom and see days of great success.  I knew he'd be one to actually grow through his mission - not just to go through it.  But he was too young to see that from his current standpoint.  He only saw others having success while his companionship didn't.

It's funny to me how we become anxious.  It seems like each person who is alive enough to have considerable desire has some time of expectation for himself... e.g. the athlete who first arrives on the scene dreams of certain accomplishments, the new professional beginning his career anticipates one day being in the seat of the man who hired him, and the new married couple seems oblivious to what is ahead of them yet somehow expects a white picket fence within a year.

In Alma, we learn that this life is a probationary state.  A time to prepare to meet God - a time to prepare for that endless state that is to come.  Time itself seems to play some role in this life's progression.

In engineering - we have two types of time-based solutions: transient, and steady-state.  Transient solutions are much more complex, and they involve changes with time.  Steady-state solutions are those that have settled and have no change with time.  From a gospel standpoint, we're living in a transient state.  After the resurrection and judgement - we'll be in more of a steady-state.  (However, we understand that progress is an eternal principle, and we will continue to develop within our own glory.)

Applying that background to the concept of being anxious gives some interesting ideas.  When we're anxious, we're trying to project outcomes based on what few things we've observed.  We're using the transient state to predict the steady-state.  It's like a chess player who wants to know precisely how the game will end when he's only three moves in.

But being impatient and wanting results isn't necessarily bad.  Being goal-oriented can cause us to reach further than we otherwise would.  And constantly monitoring our progress ensures we're headed in the right direction and with a good pace.  What makes anxiety a problem is that it exists more in a sphere of fear than in faith.

Imagine driving your car to work - let's say you have a 20 minute commute.  Your goal is to reach your destination.  And because you've arrived there safely so many times before - you're quite calm about getting there.  Assuming you left with sufficient time, you're likely relaxed about being prompt as well.  In this sense - the act of driving to work is operating in the sphere of knowledge, possibly faith.  The time doesn't bother you - chances are, you've found something to do as you wait... listen to the radio, call a friend, etc.

Now let's assume you're taking that same drive, but this time your only thoughts are about all the places you could end up other than your destination.  Maybe you get lost?  Maybe the road is closed?  What if you break down?  Maybe someone side-swipes you and you're off the road?  In 20 minutes, how many chances to you think you have to run into something that could prevent you from reaching your goal?

A person with anxiety can become so obsessed with failure that they can't focus on their goal.  They can't enjoy the ride, listen to the radio, laugh with a friend, etc.  They're watching every street sign, every post, every move of neighboring vehicles.  Paranoid with the idea of failure, they miss out on peace.

I know that few people live with a fear of driving.  But most of us have other fears that we become anxious about.  And it's usually not that we'll find ourselves flipped upside-down in a car somewhere, but that we'll arrive in an untimely manner - or maybe we'll arrive somewhere other than we expect.

Sometimes how we end up there is our own fault - we left late, or we drove too slow, took detours, etc.  But sometimes it's a road we've never traveled, and we don't know exactly where we're going.  So we don't know exactly how long it's supposed to take.  Most of life's biggest decisions, those events that define who we are, come in unexpected ways.  There's no Google Map for that stuff.  Think of the young missionary.  He expected to peak as a missionary within the first few months and to experience constant success for the remainder of his mission.  He didn't know the length of the road - or the speed limit.

The secret is to learn to enjoy the ride rather than worry about running out of gas, getting lost or arriving late. When we learn to turn our life over to the Lord, and our petty time tables too... we sync up with the Lord, and He takes us where we are to go.  It's an act of trust.  It requires sacrificing what we consider to be allowable or within our ability.  Suddenly we find that opportunities of which we would have in the past objected to are what we now enjoy the most.

I believe that's the essence of what the Lord meant when He said, "he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it".  (Matt 10:39)

So long as we're not fighting the path that the Lord wants us to be on, so long as we're not slowing down or looking for detours, we can learn to enjoy the road.  Even if we don't know exactly where we're going or how long it might take, we can have peace in this life as we are patient and full of trust.  Faith gives us an assurance of hope.  And hope maketh an anchor to the souls of men.  When we have these two attributes, we develop charity.  And those three combine to be the "fountain of all righteousness".  (Ether 12)

The missionary who called me years ago had those three attributes, but he discredited them because he thought the results should come sooner.  He questioned if he was doing everything withing his power.  Time allows for change - and we can get to where we need to go so long as we stay within that fountain of righteousness - but we have to endure and let time play it's role.  Ironically, time takes time.

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