Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bonds that Make Us Free*

*Title shamelessly lifted from Terry Warner's wonderful book of the same name.  You can purchase it here.

Since all of my classes are prerequisites for the nursing program, most of the other students are young women.  I've really enjoyed having classes with so many bright, friendly girls.  It has also made me really grateful that I'm not 20 anymore.  Today, as we were leaving the chem lab, several of the girls were making jokes about the big, bright red ring the splash goggles inevitably leave around your eyes, across the middle of your forehead and cheeks.  Most of the jokes were of the trying-to-convince-myself-I-don't-care-because-I-know-I-shouldn't variety, while the hesitating self-consciousness was quite obvious.  I wouldn't have even thought about it had it not been for their jokes.  And then I simply laughed with them and walked outside--because I honestly don't care.  In 10 years, I doubt they would either.

I try to put myself together nicely before I leave the house in the morning--a bit of makeup, a simple, neat hairstyle, whatever decent clothes I can find--and that's generally the last time I think about what I look like all day.  Being comfortably confident and beyond caring much what someone else may think of my appearance is a very liberating thing.  Its a confidence I didn't have at 20.  Its a confidence I still sometimes struggle with in my personal behavior and conversation, but I've come a long way in the last decade.  Usually now my self-confidence wanes only when I know--either consciously or instinctively--that my behavior is somehow out of line with my own ideals.  External validation is not as important to me as it once was.

As I thought about that while I was walked to my car, I remembered a comment my mom made yesterday.  I posted a photo on Facebook of me and Keilana when she was about 7 months old:
My mom said, "You look too young to be a mom."  I responded, half-joking and half-serious, "I was!"  I got married three weeks after I turned 19, and I had my first baby exactly three weeks before I turned 20.  I had a husband to love, support and serve, and a busy infant who demanded nearly all of the energy and attention I had.  Quite early into adulthood, in a very real, day to day way, my life stopped being about me.  I didn't have much time to think about myself.  So I didn't.

Furthermore, I was in an environment where people were frequently making their disdain for my life choices known in ways both subtle and direct.  At first it made me very irritated and even angry, but I started asking myself, "Am I doing the right thing?  Am I happy?"  The answer to both questions was a resounding "Yes!", and so I thought, "Then why do I care?"  It quickly became apparent that what other people thought of me or my decisions was not my problem, and none of my business.  I had a husband and a baby (and another on the way) to think about--I didn't have time for other people's misplaced moral superiority or lashing out because of their own insecurities.  Why worry about the disapproval of people whose approval I didn't need, or, in truth, even want?

Committing oneself to a marriage, wholly, completely, without reservation, and to the blessings of that marriage--namely, the children who demand so much from both spouses--seems quite limiting and restrictive to some people, because you can't focus so much on yourself.  And sure, its harder to get to the movies, or out to dinner, or to go on a vacation.  But what does any of that really matter, anyway? There is, in truth, nothing more liberating than devoting yourself as completely as possible to something bigger than and other than yourself.  Sure, it may mean less pampering and fewer luxuries, but forgetting yourself frees you from envy, insecurity, self-consciousness, irritation, impatience, and a whole host of other limiting and unpleasant traits.  It frees you from seeking, either directly or subconsciously, the approval of others.  All that really matters is the love that you can give--and that is completely within your control, and there is always more than you think there is.  The only person's approval you will care about is the Savior's, and if you are at peace with him, odds are good that the relationships that matter most in your life will be warm and peaceful.  And that will free you from a great deal of worry, hurt, and anger.

To paraphrase Alma, selfishness never was happiness.  Or, as the Savior himself said, "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."  Its common to say "Carpe diem" or, less elegantly "YOLO", to glorify wantonly selfish, indulgent behavior.  But you've never known true happiness, or true freedom, until you've learned to live for someone besides yourself.  Thinking about yourself, prioritizing yourself, puts so many limitations on you, and, quite frankly, its boring.

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