Sunday, January 20, 2008

Harnessing life lessons

This morning I ate a grapefruit that Patrick's family sent to him in the mail. They have a tree and they sent a whole box. After mangling the fruit in absence of a real grapefruit spoon, I squeezed the juice into my regular spoon. I was amazed at how much juice I got, squeeze after squeeze. It almost seemed like a bad magic trick.

Even though the juice was kinda sour (yellow, not pink grapefruit), I liked it. Life is like a grapefruit. Everyday we encounter situations and usually fail to squeeze the lessons out of them that we should. Don't the scriptures say we should act and not be acted upon? Too many times we just respond, rather than take a proactive attitude and harness the true power from our situations.

Here is what I mean. When I was on my mission I taught a member I'll call Todd. He told us he quit smoking, we set a date with him, and I got transferred. Later I found out that he had kept smoking even through his baptism, at least that is what I was told. I was on fire, and shamefully slipped into a bold and brash response. I wrote him a rebuking letter telling him he needed to clean up his act and called him to repentance.

Shortly after, I got a call from an elder I will call Elder D. He tore into me. He called me names, told me I was way out of line, yelled at me, and that was the conversation. My natural instinct was to lay into him back. By fortuitous chance, I was able to suppress that urge. I sat there and took it.

Now I didn't think much of Elder D as a missionary, and to be honest I still don't. He was out of line to call me like that and say the things he did. I knew he was being hypocritical. But none of that matters, not a single bit. Somehow at that moment in my life I knew enough to isolate myself from Elder D. The issue of his call and the issue of my shameful letter to Jon were two separate issues. He was out of line, but that was his problem. I decided to let him deal with his own problems, and I dealt with mine. I knew I was way out of line and that I needed to learn a lesson from this. I did. Whether Elder D ever progressed past his hot head, I don't know, and don't really need to know. All I needed to take from that situation was that I was wrong and I needed to change.

Being chastised sucks, and it is our nature to put up a wall and buck back. Don't. I don't know if I could think of a better learning opportunity than when you screw up and you are getting railed for it. First of all, just the act of resisting your natural instinct to revile the chastiser (no matter how out of line or tactless they are) is one of the best exercises in self-mastery. Very few people know how to avoid offense. Those that do show great self restraint. Second, there is a reason your getting ripped. You screwed up and you can learn from this. The exercise of separating the issues at hand and only choosing to focus on the things that you can learn from is almost without parallel in my opinion.

Now, I don't think chastisements are the only situations in life that you can grow tremendously from. I've come to look at many situations in life as exercises in self-control. The other day I broke a $28 piece of glass in my lab class. I laughed it off, and I think I was the stronger for it. The ability to look at life's challenges and analyze them to see what you can learn from them not only keeps life light, but keeps you learning.

I also feel I have learned a lot from situations where I felt like I was being tested to see if I would walk the walk after talking the talk. It is easy for me to say I am for socioeconomic equality. The real test is when I walk by a beggar on the street. I force myself to pull out my wallet and give them some money, not only to help them, but to keep myself honest to my values. Each time I feel like I am truer to myself and that I further understand the idea of being committed to a cause. This month I donated to both Wikipedia and to Barack Obama's campaign. I felt that both actions furthered my commitments to two worthy causes.

Basically, it is easy to talk. But I have learned to really enjoy situations that test how committed I am to walking as well. When you view these situations as challenges and recognize the personal development that comes from sacrificing, you realize that it really isn't a sacrifice at all. It really is a matter of growing roots, I think. Anyway can lay claim to set of beliefs, but putting down roots in them requires giving a bit.

Anyway, I hope this all made sense. Stop letting life act on you, and start finding situations where you can harness the power of life's situations to further develop both your character and self mastery.

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