Thursday, September 11, 2014

The "Trust Fall" that is the Atonement

While praying recently, I thought over all the things I had done wrong that day and by extension all week--all the things I needed to repent of. I thought of all the times I had lost my patience with my children, the times I had sighed in exasperation when they asked me for something while in the middle of "my" projects, the minutes I had wasted in idleness. I felt the surge of desire to be better, that elusive ideal, the proverbial carrot dangling constantly in the distance that should be driving me along, but doesn't seem to do any more than aggravate me. Why do I fail so much? Why do I want so badly to be good and yet fail so consistently? Why can't I overcome my fatal flaws? Why is it such a struggle?

My mother let me read her journal once when I was struggling through a difficult time. I was pregnant with my fifth child, my husband was burdened with a challenging work situation, and we were both feeling overwhelmed by life. Mom brought me her journal that spanned her years from having 2 children to having her 5th. She thought it would be helpful for me to see that I was not the only one to have walked that difficult road. It did help, and it also gave me a special window into her soul that longed for the very same thing: perfection. She yearned just as much if not more for the same seemingly unattainable goal and felt just as much remorse over her lack of its achievement. But from the outside, to me she was amazing. She was as good as they can possibly get. She was close to the spirit, trying her hardest and doing her best. She lived what she believed. And yet she was still plagued by feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. She struggled her whole life to be good, right up to the end.

And then she died.

As this thought washed over me, I wept. Mom struggled her whole life to be good, and probably never felt good enough, and then it was over. That seemed so bleak, so horridly hopeless. And she was ten times better than me. If someone like her could feel so inadequate, where does that leave ME?

But then a thought came to me: we can not make ourselves perfect. It is, just as we thought, absolutely impossible. And it is meant to be. We can't do this alone, so why do we constantly try to? Why do I constantly try to do this alone? I need the Savior. It is only through him, with him, and by him that I can become perfect. But in my mortal rebellion, I prefer trying to be perfect the way I envision. So I construct my plan for reaching perfection and I decide what I work on and work towards. But it always falls apart. Why? Because my vision of the perfect me is actually flawed and imperfect because I don't have a perfect persepctive. I cannot see the big picture, so how can I even think to make the blueprint to build the perfect me? Why would I even attempt it? Is it a power thing? Do I want to prove something? Or do I want to take all the credit for myself? No, I have to go to the master builder and ask him for the Plans. And then keep him by my side as he tells me what to build and which parts to work on first. I have to give commmand to him.

This wasn't really a new thought. I have realized many times in my life that I needed to rely more on Christ to help me overcome my weaknesses. I knew I needed him. But time after time, it seems I start forward with that in mind, then eventually slip back into trying to do it all on my own. I call it the "my do it!!" syndrome, because that's what my son says when he wants to do something all by himself, like brushing his teeth, or getting dressed. I let him try, and when he struggles the most and I try to intervene, he screams at me again and I have to back off. I try to wait patiently for him to wear himself out doing the thing that is almost impossible until he is the one that says, "help me."

I guess there are times when God does the same with us. There are times when he wants us to learn independence. He doesn't want us to come to him for every little detail of our lives. He wants us to be self-reliant and proactive. He said, "men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will and bring to pass much righteousness." But there are things that we can't fix on our own, and the more we try, refusing the divine assistance we need, the worse things can get.

Handing it all over takes an incedible amount of trust. It makes me think of those "trust fall" activites meant to build team work. On the few occasions I have done this exercise, I barely knew my "team," but already felt a bond of friendship and even love. With my back turned to them, unable to see but hearing their chants of encouragement, I would fall five feet down into their supporting arms. There is always that moment of terror, that you've made a horrid mistake, or that someone you are depending on might fail you, and your stomach lurches. And then you feel the cradle of all those arms, braced to catch and protect you, and it's hard not to laugh in delight. In a similar fashion, I can't see my Savior, but I feel him, I hear him, and he has known me longer than I currently know myself. He calls out to me, "I'm right here. I promise I will catch you." I have to throw my life into his arms, and trust that he will break my fall and bear me up. I have to work hand in hand with him as we create the me he needs me to be. Only then can I be made perfect, because his atonement fills the infinite gap between what I am and what I need to be. As soon as I place myself in his command and stop fighting against myself, I am perfect and whole, and it feels even more exhilarating than landing in the outstretched arms of my friends.

1 comment:

  1. This is inspiring, Rachel. A great discussion of faith and trust. I've often felt similarly--as I'm sure many others have.