Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 1 - For Pity's Sake

I started out convinced that I was a failure.  All I wanted, as a boy, was to grow up to be like my dad.  He was such a hero in my eyes and could do no wrong.  He was a marvelous athlete and a brilliant speaker and teacher.  He was so good to my mother.  He had so many friends.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have an athletic bone in my body.  I was always picked last, when choosing up sides.  “I threw like a girl.”[1]  I had no interest in humiliation or pain.  I felt like a constant disappointment to my father because I sensed very early that he’d have loved to have had me grow up to be just like him.  In fact he often said, “Son, if you don’t turn out better than me, you won’t be as good.”  I think he meant that given the advantages he provided me; advantages he hadn’t had, I had a head start on excelling in sports and in life.  He expected me to take full advantage of that head start.
Gifted with a vivid imagination, I developed the habit of dreaming up some wonderful thing I would do to impress my Dad.  I quickly discovered that in his mind it had to be in some aspect of athletics.  He seemed blind to my extreme lack of potential.  I tried several other ventures.  Most of them failed too.  I didn’t like failure.  I didn’t like disappointing my father.  I didn’t like rejection from my peers and before long, I didn’t like me.
At the age of ten I had my first full blown pity party.  I didn’t like being me and I found something that made me feel better which helped me forget about my discomfort with myself and situation.  Within weeks I became an addict.  I couldn’t live without a fix.  It was the only thing I could rely on to make me feel different.  It never rejected, criticized or ostracized me.  All I knew was that I didn’t like how I felt normally and that using made that all go away for a while.
I’m not going to go into what I was addicted to for the same reason Paul didn’t identify his “thorn in the flesh[2].”  The fact that we don’t know the details of the Apostle’s affliction opens the way for anyone who has an affliction to identify with his circumstances.  Had he specifically identified it, those with dissimilar afflictions might not have understood that his experience applied to their situations as well.
The bottom line is:  If you have ever been uncomfortable with the way you felt and have used some external means of changing how you felt; and if you have ever had a pity party in which, feeling sorry for yourself, you justified using something extrinsic to make you feel better; you are, to a degree at least, in the same boat as I. 
Let me offer a short list of ways in which we unhealthily manipulate our moods in artificial ways:  Alcohol, tobacco, stimulants, drugs, narcotics, sugar, comfort food, pornography, sex, gambling, solitaire, television, internet surfing, shopping, spending, shop lifting and manipulation….  The list could be nearly infinite. 
I knew a dear Sister who became addicted to Genealogy.  That was her go-to thing whenever she couldn’t face her life’s discomfort.  Eventually, it became so bad that she would neglect her house and family, miss meals, stay up at all hours of the night, and beg others for names she could research.  She finally admitted she had a problem when she found herself waking up neighbors in the middle of the night begging for a new name to prepare for Temple work.  She would copy names from other people’s lines when they weren’t looking and secretly stash them, in case she needed one on a day when she’d hit a dead end on her own lines.  She was no different than a prescription drug addict stealing drugs from someone’s medicine cabinet, except it wasn’t illegal, just unethical.
The first symptom is a pity party.  My pity parties became more and more elaborate, frequent and intense.  They became the focus of my life.  I could barely make it from one to the next.  I probably should have made a business of hosting them for others, after all I had all the decorations and party favors any one would ever need.  Fortunately, I never became a dealer; drugs or Tupperware.
The bottom line, when it comes to pity parties, is pride.  That’s right.  We all tend to want life on our own terms.  Then, when things don’t go our way, it’s the most natural thing in the world to feel sorry for ourselves.  Were we to be humble, we’d be more willing to accept life on God’s terms and spend our efforts in the productive venture of learning from our circumstances.
Perhaps you’ve never made that connection.  Perhaps you are like me.  Perhaps you got jilted by the boy of your dreams and then holed up in your room with a package of cookies and a quart of ice cream.  Maybe you’re the missionary who got a door slammed in his face and couldn’t get himself out of bed on time for the next several weeks.  Or, possibly you’re the one who came home with a bad report card, got in a fight with your mom and then ran away.  Yup, running away counts too, because it’s the same thing.  The alcoholic runs away to the bottle, the obese person runs away to a package of Twinkies and the porn addict runs away to the internet.
I was sharing this stuff with a friend one time and he began to wonder if he was addicted to playing solitaire.  I asked him, “Have you ever quickly shut it down when your wife walked into the room?”  He admitted he had. 
“So, you’re ashamed of the time you spend at it and would rather keep that a secret?”
“Have you tried to quit?”
“Will you quit for a week and report back to me?”
“Okay,” was his timid reply.  He made it a half a day.  And admitted he was hooked.
He was playing solitaire for the same reason the alcoholic drinks.  He was miserable in some way and was looking for a quick easy distraction to give him relief.
I bring up some of these examples to point out that addiction is more common than most of us think.  We are surprised because we’ve always identified addiction with illegal drugs and alcohol.  My solitaire playing friend was Senior High Councilman in his Southern Utah Stake.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that wasting our lives away playing solitaire is not nearly so life threatening as wasting them away using Meth (and not nearly so hard to quit) but it is still a waste.  Addictive behavior, in my view, occurs when we use extrinsic means to treat intrinsic problems.
Hyrum W. Smith wrote a wonderful book called Pain is Inevitable Misery is Optional.  I highly recommend the book.  The title is spot on.  We all experience pain.  It is part and parcel of mortality.  Misery follows pain when not properly treated.  It is like a man who suffers a broken leg and so takes up a crutch to facilitate mobility.  As long as he puts no weight on the leg he gets along pretty well.  He thinks it’s just a temporary situation but before long he’s used to the crutch.  Now suppose he decides the crutch is cumbersome, even disgusting and decides to throw it away.  Suddenly, he realizes the leg has not healed and immobilized, he must take up the crutch again.  So it is with addictive behavior.  It is the crutch that we’ve chosen to help us deal with the pain.  Disgusted, we toss the behavior away time after time, only to take it back again in order to cope with the pain while we continue to try to function.  Would it not be better to heal the leg?  Once we are healed of the discomfort we can easily toss the crutch.
For me, the pain was due to pride.  I had spent my life insisting upon having life on my own terms.  We don’t get life on our terms.  This is an important thing to discover.  We once accepted life on God’s terms; which was a condition of our being able to experience mortality.  But Satan entered the picture very early in our lives and effectively persuaded us to seek our own comfort and selfish advantage and that always turns to disappointment, discouragement, sin and misery.  In making that initial choice, to accept God’s terms, we understood we were taking a risk.  We most certainly were informed that having the right to make choices meant that others would too.  We understood that inevitably we, and others, would make wrong choices that would wound us.  We accepted the risk because we accepted the promise of the Savior who would not only deliver us, but heal our wounds and carry our burdens.  We also knew that the key to receiving that healing balm would be humility.
The Sunday School answer to the question, “What is Humility?” has always been, “to be teachable.”  This is true, but to my mind, it is a pretty thin definition.  The discovery that humility might more effectively defined as, “acknowledging my utter and entire dependence upon God for everything I require to be happy,” changes everything.   Implicit in this definition is a willingness to accept life on God’s terms.  His terms are wonderful and, seen with clarity, far more attractive than our own Satan inculcated (he inspires no one) terms.  For Christ invites us to change our hearts that He might heal us[3].
The balance of this book will be focused upon that objective; finding joy through humility.  We will learn to let go of our pride and will cancel all of our pity parties for we will no longer have cause to feel sorry for ourselves no matter what challenges and difficulties we might be called upon to face.

[1] Dad, on the first occasion we played catch.  Stated in disgust, after I, intending to toss the ball to him, instead, accidentally broke the front window of our house.  We never played catch again until I was a freshman in college.  That event didn’t go much better, though nothing was damaged, but my ego.

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

[3] 3 Nephi 9:13

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