Asking the Right Questions

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Last week I had a conversation with a friend about the question why. It had been on my mind for a month or two because it was brought up in church, and I wanted to write my feelings on the subject. Well, I’m finally getting around to it!

Someone in church one day said something about how trials can make her question why. I’m sure it’s something all of us have done. Why is this happening to me? Why do they have to suffer? Why would God allow this? Most of these questions end with, It’s not fair. Well, who ever said anything about fairness? Life isn’t about what’s fair or unfair. But then, I stopped asking, “Why?” a long time ago.

It’s been years since I’ve asked that question about any of the difficult things I’ve gone through or have seen others go through. The answer, to me, is pretty simple. That’s life. Life happens. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And sometimes bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. It’s just the way the world works. And it’s not that I don’t think we should question. I’m an extremely skeptical, untrusting person. I question pretty much everything. I do, however, think it’s about asking the right questions. For me, it’s what and how. “What can I learn from this?” and, “How can I use what I’ve been through to improve my own life or help the lives of others?”

This is how I’ve tried to live my own life for the last fifteen years, at least. It doesn’t always happen right away. As previously stated in other posts I’m a pessimist. I don’t happily go through difficulties, and I don’t always keep hope intact. But always after I ask myself the what and how questions, then try to implement them. For me, this leads to greater knowledge, understanding, strength, independence, kindness, patience and certainly a better relationship with my Father in Heaven. All asking, “Why?” ever did was lead to a circle of unhappiness.

Of course, everyone is different. This is just my experience, one I hope has some meaning to someone out there.

Thief of Joy

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Recently, I thought of a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. I heard it from the general primary president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at our last General Conference in October. It goes, “Comparison is the thief of all joy.” Perhaps the obvious meaning of the quote is that comparing what we have to what someone else has, always thinking this person or that person has it better, doesn’t make you happy—it only makes you miserable. I think there’s more to it than that.

Some of the most miserable people I know or have met are ones who think no one has suffered the way they have, people who get upset when someone else talks about their own trials or hardships. I recently heard a woman share her outrage that her sister had the audacity to complain about how hard her life was—because apparently her sister’s life isn’t as hard as hers. I guess that means she’s the only one who has the right to complain! She said her sister has no clue how hard her life is. Well, maybe this woman has no clue how hard her sister’s life is. This sort of attitude robs you of happiness because you are dwelling on your own negativity instead of being grateful for what you do have.

Also, one of my biggest pet peeves is to hear someone say, “I’ve been through things no one else can imagine,” or, “If anyone else had been given my trials they would have given up or just died.” Well, how do you know that? How do you know how much someone else has suffered or what kind of strength they have in them to endure? Thinking this way certainly doesn’t bring strength, and it certainly doesn’t bring happiness. Maybe this will sound judgmental, but that sort of attitude reflects egotism, in my opinion. Ego definitely stands in the way of happiness.

There’s one other way I’ve found this quote to be true. And that is when we compare our hardship to others—not in a I’ve-suffered-more-than-anyone-else sort of way. In a I-shouldn’t-feel-so-bad-because-other-people-have-it-worse-than-me sort of way. A friend from high school helped teach me this lesson. It was after the second time in high school that I almost took my own life. I told her I felt bad for feeling bad—because really I had a pretty good life. I was just depressed, but I knew I shouldn’t be because there was real suffering in the world, and I was blessed to live in a first world country. She told me I shouldn’t compare my problems to other people. She said something along the lines of, “Something that’s hard for you might not be hard for someone else, but what’s hard for someone else might be easy for you. We’re all individuals, and we’re all different.”

As I’ve grown, learned, developed I’ve gained a strong belief in God’s love for all of His children. We are all important to Him as individuals, and I truly believe that He cares just as much about me as he does anyone and everyone else in the world. He cares about my own individual struggles. He cares about yours. If we are that important to Him, there’s no need to compare ourselves. Doing so only steals joy from your life. I think most of us, as humans, are pretty good at being hard on ourselves anyway. If you have mental illness, on top of that, you are probably an absolute expert! Now, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to become one of those people who says no one else has it as hard as you do, but we all have emotions, and those emotions are real. It’s okay to feel them and even, at times, let them batter and bruise you. It’s about what you do after that counts. Are you going to stay down? Are you going to wallow in misery? Or are you going to say, “Yeah, I have problems, I have trials, I have difficulties, and they are real, but I can keep going. I will keep going, and I will be grateful for the blessings I do have.”

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If comparison is the thief of all joy, then perhaps acceptance is the giver of it. Being able to say that you are good enough, that you are of worth. It’s hard. Believe me, these days I don’t feel like I’m good enough—for anything or for anyone. And I have a hard time seeing my worth in a world that seems to be full of people who are so much more amazing and better than me. But there’s that comparison—it really doesn’t help. It only brings me down. I need to work on it. Maybe we all do. And if we did, maybe we’d be a happier people, a happier world.

Just Sharing My Own Viewpoint

It was another one of those times at church I had to bite my tongue and keep quiet. It was another one of those lessons on trials that I view differently than my LDS friends. It was another one of those days that I was reminded of how different I feel. And yet, as I’ve opened up about mental illness, I’ve found so many people who have gone through similar experiences and who have felt the same way. That’s why I think it is important to open this dialogue and get a discussion going. In so doing, we can find that we’re not as alone as we think.

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For many years I’ve gotten the impression that many members of my religion view God as a Zeus-like character who’s watching the world from above, throwing down lightning bolts to make things happen. Or perhaps a better description would be as a puppeteer manipulating the events of our lives. If you were to ask any of them if this is the way they view our Father in Heaven, I’m sure they would promptly deny it, but from the way they talk it sure sounds that way to me. A perfect example is a question posed in Sunday School yesterday. We were discussing trials the early saints went through on their trek across the plains to Utah, and the teacher asked why we think God gives us the trials that we have. See? Puppeteer up there deciding who should have to go through cancer, who should have to deal with a child being born with an illness, who should have to watch a loved one struggle with addiction. Obviously the list could go on and on and on. From my viewpoint, to believe that God gives all of us our trials and decides who should go through what cancels out the concept of agency.

My religion teaches, and I believe, that one of the reasons we are on this earth is for the ability to choose for ourselves. God wanted a place for His children to go where they could exercise agency rather than be forced to do His will. He is a Father who loves us and watches over us, but allows us freedom to choose. I’ve always believed He also allows life to happen—that that was part of the plan. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that this same God who doesn’t force us, would force everything else in life. Yes, I do believe that there are some things in life that are meant to happen. I can see evidence of that in my own life, but I also believe that some things just happen—yes there are coincidences. Life happens, and it isn’t always the result of a manipulating puppet master.

No one immediately answered the teacher’s question so he gave an example of someone he knew who had accidentally backed over and killed a young child. His trial was having to live with that, but the story was also about how he had learned about forgiveness through it because the child’s family forgave him. Years later a drunk driver hit into his car, killing his wife and two children who were with him. So this man could look back and finally understand why he went through the trial he did—so he could learn about forgiveness so he could forgive the man who killed his family. It was supposed to be this inspirational story, and it’s great that the man learned this valuable lesson and was able to apply it in his own life. However, I cannot believe that a loving Heavenly Father would manipulate events to cause a man to kill a child, and thus a family to lose a child, just to teach this one person about forgiveness. It sounds a bit ridiculous, right? And yet, if you believe that God gives us all of our trials, this is what you believe.

Let me share my beliefs. Like I said, I do believe some things are meant to happen, but when it comes to trials or hard things in life I also believe that most of them come about simply because that is life. Life is hard. Difficult things just happen. I also believe that some of our trials are the result of our own bad choices—situations we put ourselves in because we were selfish, angry, unwilling to ask God or listen to His promptings, etc. I also believe in a ripple effect.

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Life is a pond and all of our choices are like rocks being thrown in. Each rock makes a ripple that stretches farther than the place it hit. The choices we make in life, the action we take, affects others in the same way. That’s why I believe it is so important to think before we act, to realize that there can be unseen consequences to our actions.

So, rather than believing that God caused a man to run over and kill a child just so that, through his trial, he could learn about forgiveness, I believe that it was a result of choices, actions, and just a horrible, horrible accident. It isn’t about the hardship God gives us, but about how we choose to deal with what happens in life, how we live with it, learn from it and help others because of it. Actually, I believe this is true of all our experiences in life—not just bad, but the good, as well.