Letting myself be happy has turned out to be harder than I thought.
I’ve been thinking about the atonement for the past few days, after we had our Teachings for Our Times lesson on Sunday about President Uchtdorf’s message (which ironically was the General Conference Book Club talk for last week).
For some reason my testimony of the atonement and my understanding and conviction that it is the key to happiness and can help me bear pain and disappointment doesn’t seem to translate into something doable. I can’t figure out how to use the atonement to help assuage the pain.
Something I thought about on Sunday was how I healed (am healing) from the loss of my brother. For a while I didn’t heal – I was too busy to deal with the grief – but once I faced the grief head on, and allowed the atonement to work in me, I felt the healing. I still feel it every day (for that trial). The loss of my brother will always be a hole in my heart, but it is much less painful now than it was two years ago. I feel like I was able to heal because nothing was ongoing. Once the initial shock was gone, there was not much left to do other than heal. There are always little moments when it’s harder – like when we’re taking family pictures, or on his birthday, or on the anniversary of his death, or when I watch someone else deal with the loss of a loved one. But in general, the pain is past. The trial is, for the most part, over.
This trial is different.
It may never be over. It may never end. Things may never, in this life, get better – at least not the way I want them to.
And I think accepting that is hard for me. Learning how to live with the situation how it is feels like giving up. It feels like being okay with things the way they are is failure. Accepting that I don’t have any power over this situation is like accepting defeat.
I guess I just don’t want to endure pain for the rest of my life. This is a spiritual and emotional pain, rather than a physical one – but I think the concept is the same. I can’t imagine living in chronic pain. I know there are people who do it. A good sister in my ward is in constant pain and confined to a wheelchair. There are actually two sisters in our ward in that condition. How do they stand it? How do they find happiness? It wasn’t their choice to be in that situation.
I think deep down I feel a little bit like this trial is my fault. I feel as if there is something I could have done. If only I had made this decision, or that decision, I wouldn’t be in this position.
Sometime in the past year I remember thinking to myself that Heavenly Father wanted me to be in this position. He knew before I did the pain I would be in. He knew it a long time ago, before I even saw it coming. He knew when He told me to make the decision I made that would lead me to this place. He knew this was the only way I would learn the things I needed to learn.
I read this quote from Orson F. Whitney earlier today in a General Conference talk by Elder Robert D. Hales,
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God, … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.
I loved what Bonnie said about tanning leather on my most recent post at Real Intent:
You would think that the strongest leather comes from hides with lots of flesh left on them, nice and thick, that haven't been treated too badly. In fact, the strongest leather comes from well-scraped hides that have been acid-soaked and worked and left in the sun, then acid-soaked and worked and left in the sun, and acid-soaked and worked and left in the sun. Unworked leather cracks under pressure. Well-worked leather is soft and supple, water-proof and flexible. We don't grow strong by being left alone.
Tender. How do you tenderize something? Usually by beating it repeatedly. Ever seen a meat tenderizer? They come in different varieties, but almost always they have some kind of prongs or texturized surface. Ours is a very scary looking hammer. If you want to cook some really tender meat, you beat the meat repeatedly with the scary hammer. How do we become tender? By being beating, spiritually, emotionally, sometimes physically. By undergoing trials and adversity.
I once wrote about the three sources of trials and adversity in this life. Suffering is usually caused either by our own sins, the sins of others, or just by the natural conditions of this world. The suffering I experienced when my brother passed away was part of the natural conditions of this world. No one made him get cancer. His cancer wasn’t a result of some sin he committed. It just happened. It was tragic and painful, but it just happened. This trial is hard for me because I can’t help feeling like I am suffering it because of a sin I committed. I keep wanting to simply repent and make it better – but I can’t because it isn’t my sin to repent of.
Elder Hales said, “In this mortal life, each of us is going to experience pain in one form or another… It often comes as a result of our disobedience to the commandments of God, but it also comes to those who are doing all they can to keep their lives in line with the example of the Savior.” I have been spending all this time thinking that this kind of pain shouldn’t come to me because of the way I was living my life. I made good choices, so I shouldn’t have to experience this trial. But life doesn’t work that way. All the good choices I could ever make can’t stop others from making bad choices.
I really liked the last part of Elder Hales’ talk where he talked about how important caregivers are as we are experiencing pain. “There are times when, no matter how independent we may be, we must entrust others with our care. We must surrender ourselves to them. Our caregivers are those who assist in the healing process.”
If you know anything about me, you know that I am fiercely independent, strong willed, and incredibly head strong. In fact, earlier this year when my husband was gone on frequent business trips a member of our Relief Society presidency called me and asked if I needed anything. She commented that she wasn’t too worried about me because she could tell how independent I am, but she wanted me to know that they were there if I needed anything. I told her that she’s right, I can take care of everything, but it was nice to know they were thinking about me (and it was – it always helps me take care of myself when I know people are thinking of me).
So “surrendering” to outside help is something I would not consider doing. Last fall when I was having some emotional issues my husband made me see a therapist a few times. I would never have made the appointments on my own. A few months ago I finally broke down and talked to the bishop. It felt good to talk to him and get counsel, but I didn’t go back, thinking I could take care of it from there.
This week I am going to work on finding some caregivers. A person in chronic pain probably sees a doctor regularly. I think I should probably learn to surrender to some caregivers.
Surrendering to the ultimate Caregiver is probably going to be the hardest thing for me. Elder Hales said,
The Lord is our ultimate caregiver. We must surrender ourselves to the Lord. In doing so, we give up whatever is causing our pain and turn everything over to Him. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee”. “And then may God grand unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son”. Through faith and trust in the Lord and obedience to His counsel, we make ourselves eligible to be partakers of the Atonement of Jesus Christ so that one day we may return to live with Him.
Giving up the thing that is causing me pain is going to feel like defeat. I don’t know how not to feel like it is. I don’t know how not to feel like I have somehow failed. I don’t know how to do it, and I am pretty sure that is the thing causing me the most pain.