Chapter Three: How Do I Find the Strength?
We’re talking about change here, and change is never easy. On the other hand, it’s no fun to go through life wishing you were somewhere else. Now is when you have to get serious with yourself and take action. There are some basic principles you have to understand to really effect change in your life. WARNING: You can’t just read these next few sections, say, “Okay,” and move on to the next part of the book. You must internalize them and make them a part of your personal philosophy. Word them as you like, understand them from your own perspective, but know that changing yourself is based on a deep-seated belief in yourself.
You can’t give from a dry well. Many of us spend our lives in pursuit of pleasing others: spouse, boss, children, parents, friends, our “audience,”—whomever those people are who are players in our lives. We give—morning, noon, and night—thinking we are responsible for seeing that these people are happy. The truth is, no one can make anyone else happy. REPEAT: No one can make anyone else happy. (Neither can we make them miserable.) We can contribute, but each person is responsible for his own happiness. Each person is responsible for his own happiness. Each person is responsible for his own happiness. Get the idea?
Please don’t think I am discounting service, by any means. Service is one of the most glorious things we can do on this planet, and an integral part of our reason for being here. Little children depend on our help; our paychecks depend on our work; relationships depend on giving; much of the joy we find in living comes from helping others when they cannot help themselves. Indeed, the things we want to do most will most likely be of service to someone. On the other hand, it is possible to spend too much time doing for others. When you serve everyone but yourself, you are doing yourself a great injustice.
Let’s say your service is water that you are pouring from a bucket. You go to each person and pour out a little. Soon the bucket is empty. How do you refill it? You must spend time on yourself, nourishing your own spirit, meeting your own needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual) if you want to be able to give to anyone else for very long.
It’s not selfish; it’s survival. Spending time on yourself is the only way you can recharge your own batteries. What is true for others is true for you: no one else can make you happy. You have to find joy in yourself. That’s why it is not only important, it’s essential that you spend time nurturing yourself.
When my husband finished school and got settled into his new job, he handed me the course catalog for the community college and said, “It’s your turn.” My mind nearly exploded at the possibilities! However, a friend had told me that the community theater was auditioning for “The Sound of Music” and had asked me if I’d like to go with her to try out for the nun’s chorus. I told my husband I’d like to try the theater first.
The audition consisted of singing and reading a scene, neither of which I’d prepared for; I was more along for the ride. I was, however, accustomed to singing, thanks to the church choir, and I knew one of the songs from the show, so that part went okay. When it came time to act, I trusted the instincts of the little girl who had played an Indian maiden, an army nurse, an army sergeant, and everything in between, and read the scene in which Maria tells Von Trapp that he needs to listen to his children. It was great fun and elicited a “Wow!” from the director. I was pleased to have gotten that far, but I really didn’t expect any more from my first audition. Amazingly, I was cast as one of the nuns.
During September rehearsals for that show, the theater board was planning the December slate. They had hit a hitch, finding out that a show they had hoped to do was not available. They were in the process of selecting three one-act plays to fill the evening, but had so far only found two they liked. Another friend who was an active member of the group pointed to me across the room and said, “See her? She writes. I’ll bet she could come up with something.” Before I knew it, I had been commissioned to fill the hole in the program.
What followed can only be called an Act of God. Within three weeks, I had written a one-act musical with four original songs. The board fell in love with it, and I was installed as an assistant director for the production of the first real play I’d written! As that play was in rehearsal, the director and I had a conversation about our love of a certain movie, and how we wished there were a stage version of it. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to create that piece, which was subsequently performed to rave reviews in two separate seasons and at a local high school. I ended up writing another, directing a few, performing in many others, and serving on the board of directors before we left that town four years later.
At first I had a hard time justifying the time I put into the theater. I was used to devoting all my time to “the things that have to be done.” While it was an adjustment for everyone, I finally realized that the guilt I was feeling was self-imposed. I didn’t need to feel it. I wasn’t doing anyone any favors if I denied myself this outlet. A happier me made for happier people around me.
God has a plan for me. The old saying is, “God put me here to accomplish certain things, and at the rate I’m going, I’ll never die!” Of course that’s not quite true. We’re going to die anyway. The idea is to find out what He put us here to achieve so when death does come along, we will enter the next life knowing we met our goals. If we lose ourselves along the way, we not only frustrate ourselves, but His plan for the work we could have accomplished and the lives we could have touched.
Every one of us is unique; that’s not by accident. Each one of us has physical, mental, and spiritual gifts in a combination no one else has. Maybe you have a way of putting people at ease in conversation. Maybe you’re artistic. Maybe you understand the internal combustion engine better than anyone in the county. Maybe you’re a computer whiz. Maybe you’re a fabulous cook. Maybe you can get a crying child to laugh in four minutes flat. Whatever your talents (and everybody has more than one), develop them. He who gave them to you will guide you; you only have to ask.
If that isn’t motivation enough, think of it this way: some day you will stand before God to account for your life. What will you tell Him? “I was too busy to develop myself. It didn’t seem important.” What do you think would be the look on His face? And how would you feel saying those words to Him?
I’m worth it. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many hard knocks you’ve had in life; don’t let anyone convince you that you don’t deserve to be happy. You have as much right to inner joy and peace of mind as anyone else. There may be difficult circumstances in your corner of the world, but those are only circumstances. Being who you were meant to be is the inalienable right of every person on the planet.
Another dear man once said to us, “We don’t have problems. We have challenges and opportunities!” (At the time I said, “No, I have a problem!” But I have since learned this principle and made it an important part of my philosophy.) If we choose to look at it as he did, he is very right. The struggles that face us are often the things that make us dig down deep into our souls to find strength we never had to use before. They are opportunities to grow, to gain compassion, to be refined in ways that hardship alone can purify us. No matter what has come your way, you are still entitled to find your eternal purpose and develop your character and talents to fulfill it.
Time for another illustration: At one point I was a leader of a young women’s group. Part of their annual activity was to go to camp and work through a series of goals to achieve progressive “ranks” as campers. Since I hadn’t had this opportunity as a teenager, I was earning my ranks along with the girls. So here I was, going for my fourth year (top) rank as a grown woman—a slightly “fluffy” mother of six who hadn’t exercised seriously in several years, and who had never been athletic.
The first requirement was a five-mile hike, carrying a pack. The course of the hike was plotted over very rough terrain, and my pack was too heavy. By the time we reached our destination, I was exhausted, sore and had big bruises on my hips where the pack had been riding.
The hike had taken longer than we anticipated; we arrived at our campsite after dark, so had to set up our tents and prepare our meals by firelight. I had borrowed a tent, which turned out to be a bad one. It rained in the night. I woke up in a veritable pond, soaking wet. I was cold and exhausted and in pain. I distinctly remember walking up the road of the camp the next day, thinking, “What am I doing here? I have car keys in my pocket! I have a family waiting for me at home! Why am I doing this?” But I had committed, and I was going to finish.
Next came the biggest challenge: rappelling. I had known this was part of the program, and I had been psyching myself up for it since I had decided to make the trek. I’d never done it before, and it was definitely out of my comfort zone to step off the side of a cliff; but I had said I would, and I was going to follow through.
I sat at the top of the cliff and watched all the other girls and leaders go down. I studied the commands called out by the rappel masters (men who were experienced climbers) handling the ropes. I watched the actions of the rappellers. I used my acting skills to put myself in their places and rode down the cliff with each of them in my mind, preparing myself to make the jump. Finally, they had all gone down, and it was my turn.
Remember the rain? It had been a good, soaking rain. The ground was just muddy enough to be slick. The grass was wet. And 40 other people had gone over the cliff before I did. So I got into position. I knew what to do, and I knew the commands.
I got into the rigging and put on the helmet. I stepped to the edge of the cliff—backward.
“Ready on rappel,” was my line, meaning I was ready to go.
“Ready on belay,” came the response, meaning the rappel master had the ropes under control and was ready to catch me if I started to fall.
“On rappel,” I said, meaning “here goes nothing!”
“On belay,” he answered, meaning, “I won’t let you die.”
I stepped off the cliff, and my foot slipped on the slick edge. I hit the rock face in the first second of my descent. My shoulder, my head (actually, gratefully, the helmet). Everyone gasped. But I was ready. I had prepared for this. I didn’t panic; I got back into position, called out, “I’m OK. Let’s go,” and finished the descent.
Now it wasn’t the Matterhorn—it was only about 30 or 40 feet, but I felt great. Bruised and battered as I was, I felt great. I had done it! Unfortunately, the other leaders decided that I needed to do it again—like getting back on the horse you’ve just fallen off. They made me do it twice more. In my flabby condition, I was shaking with fatigue after the third descent, but I did it.
What does all this have to do with believing I’m worth something? I went into this experience—as foreign to my normal life as it could possibly be—and did what I would have deemed impossible. I pulled strength from myself that I never knew was there. I utilized spiritual strength I hadn’t recognized was available. I learned a great deal about my individual value and about what I could accomplish if I tried hard enough. For years I carried a piece of paper in the front of my scriptures that said, “Ready on rappel. Ready on belay. On rappel. On belay.” I had learned who the greatest Rappel Master is, and I knew what value He put on me. I knew that together we could do anything. I have had to draw on that knowledge many times since.
I am not alone. Remember, your Heavenly Father will be with you every step of the way. He loves you and wants you to succeed. He can bless you in many ways to help you toward your goal. Some blessings will be easy to spot; others will take a sharpened spiritual eye to notice. You may find you have the energy to stay up an hour later every night to work on your growth. You may find that you work more efficiently at “have to” tasks, allowing you time for yourself. Perhaps there will be a forgotten ten dollar bill that turns up just when you are face with the choice of spending money on yourself or on something else. Maybe you will find that your family is particularly supportive at certain points of your quest. To many, such things are merely coincidental; to the trained spiritual eye, they are quiet, unobtrusive ways God helps us when we’re trying to do His will. Learn to recognize His hand in your life.