Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Faith and Validation

Since I was a very small child (so small that I can't remember a time I didn't "know" it), far too small to articulate the idea, much less the reasons behind it, I have intuitively understood something: people love happy people, and people love people who love them.  If there was one thing I was certain of as a child, it was that I wanted to be loved.  I instinctively tried to receive that love by showing only happiness to others, and by finding ways to show others that I loved them.

By the time I reached my teenage years, I consciously understood and could articulate this very simple idea that had intuitively been a part of my nature for virtually all of my life.  What's more, by then I was old enough to realize that while loving people could be a source of great pain and frustration, I was also experienced enough to know that there was no greater remedy for that heart ache or frustration or just a grumpy mood than to find ways to serve the people around me.  I always knew that, no matter how down or anxious or frustrated I felt, if I could just find a way to make someone else feel better, I would feel better.  (This is a large part of why the idea f nursing--even with all its bureaucratic nonsense and technical demands--appeals to me.  The one thing that has consistently made me happy in life has been finding ways to help other people feel better).

Without fail (and with the benefit of hindsight), the times in my life that have been the most miserable have been the times that I have been the most focused on myself.  When I have worried what others thought of me, I behaved in a self-conscious manner that made it hard to love me.  When I forgot about me and just focused on showing people the good things I saw and felt about them, I loved them more, they loved me more, and I was so much happier.  The bottom line is that validation is hardest to get when we are actively seeking it, and easiest to obtain when we no longer need it.

Too often, we behave or speak to people in a manner that (implicitly or explicitly) demands, "Understand me, love me, validate me."  The behaviors that tend to accompany such an attitude (conscious or not) generally make one harder to love, and so focused is on one oneself that, ironically, we fail to see just how much of our misery we are causing ourselves, or at least exacerbating.  If we forget ourselves, and seek ways to better understand those we love (or should love), if we stop trying to make everything about showing them who we are and getting them to accept that person, and instead focus on trying to show them that we know who they are and we love them, the love and validation that we desire will come naturally.  Those who feel loved and appreciated by us will easily love and appreciate us--people love people who love them.  Just as importantly, the happiness that comes to us as we make that effort will make us easier to love.  As long as we are trying to "fix" people (even if all we are trying to "fix" is how they see or treat us), all we will see (or, at the very least, what we will most prominently see) are their failures and flaws (as we define them).  When you stop trying to fix someone, and instead start making an effort to love them unconditionally, warts and all, and to feel and express appreciation for the good things that they do and are, we will find that the good stuff gets easier to see, we love it more, and the unconditional love gets easier to feel and act on.  In fact, we often come to see that things we thought were warts aren't warts at all, but simply a different way of seeing or doing things, and we are the ones who lacked understanding.

There is a very natural tendency to hold others hostage to our self-esteem.  Of course, spouses should be kind to each other, children should treat parents with respect, parents should treat children with respect, etc, but ultimately, and please hear this, your parents are not responsible for your self-esteem.  Your children are not responsible for your self-esteem.  Even your spouse, as precious and important as that relationship is, is not responsible for your self-esteem.  Ultimately, your feelings of self-worth are between you and the Lord.  In my experience, times when we struggle with our self-worth the most are times when we are either not in good standing with the Lord, or we are struggling with our faith in his love, in the reality that he is enough.

If you are struggling with faith, please, please hang in there, keeping praying and seeking the Lord--he's never as far away as we sometimes think he is in our faltering moments, and that flood of love and warmth may come much sooner than you expect.  Please trust that he is there, that he loves you, and that he believes in your infinite worth.  You are precious to him.

If you don't have much relationship with the Savior at any given moment because you're afraid that if you ask what you can do to change, he'll actually answer you, you have no right to project that guilt or failure or fear of failure onto others, or to treat them poorly because you don't feel happy.  They may indeed have a moral obligation to be kind to you, but your esteem is not theirs to build, and if you don't have the relationship you should with the Lord, nothing they do will solve the problem anyway.

If you want to be happy--truly, thoroughly content and at peace--you must seek your primary validation from the Savior, and you have to be willing to humbly say, "Lord, I trust you love me, even with my flaws, but I know I must do better--what would Thou have me do?" and then have the faith and courage to hear the answer and sincerely act on it.  If you can't be content with the Savior's love and validation, no one else's will ever be enough.  Once his is enough, you'll never need anyone else's.

And in that moment, when you feel that reassuring peace that Lord loves you, and that you are enough for him, when you stop needing anyone else's validation or reassurance, you will find that you are a better spouse, a better parent, a better missionary and a better friend.  When you really, truly feel the love of the Lord for you in your heart, you will radiate that love out to others, and they will love you.  Naturally.  Build your faith, and the Lord will build you up.

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