Obviously, being successful in our personal lives makes sense. Who wants to be a loser? As I think on the implications of personal success, I begin to see that society needs each of us to just be better in our everyday lives. Yes, we have public officials who are leading us, but if we as a people are mediocore and apathetic about how our communities grow or diminish, there's not a lot that any amount of talented leaders can do to save us from decay. A strong community needs a strong foundation. Each person needs to rise to his full potential.
I've had a number of experiences this week that have tied into this realization. (I'm always amused at how I'll learn or realize something new and then be smacked upside the head for the next week with experiences that drive the point home.) I was having a conversation with a neighbor and she remarked about how frustrating it was that we have so many talented teachers in our ward who just won't step up and fully commit to their callings and do a fantastic job, rather than settling for a merely adequate execution of their duties. It came to me that the thing holding us back from blossoming into the people we are supposed to rise up and become is FEAR. Fear about committing to being excellent. Fear about trying something new. Fear about what other people may think of us when we step out of the box of social safety.
And where does fear come from? "For God hath not given us the Spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."1 If God has not given us the Spirit of fear, then it must be Satan who is the author of fear. To be afraid to be our best is allowing Satan to guide us in his path and accomplish his goals, namely the goal of creating misery. When we remain in a neutral or diminishing state, we are not only damaging and hindering ourselves, but also our families or our communities. Nothing moves forward and we are frustrated, while Satan gleefully claps his hands and cheers over our inertia.
Why are we afraid to be our best? Why are we hesitant to go the extra mile and do something truly marvelous? I don't know about you individually, but my great stumbling block is the opinions of other people. Everytime I find myself tending towards stagnancy or settling for "good enough," it's because I'm afraid of "rocking the boat" or of hearing, yet again, all the back-handed compliments and sarcastic comments that tend to rain down upon me when I'm operating at my highest level. It makes me think back on my own school days, and how often I was sneered at and dismissed as a "nerd," and how I was told that I needed "to get a social life" when reports cards or test scores would come out and I had received good marks. Even in college I was subjected to these sorts of remarks. Doing your best is usually accompanied by the jealous contempt of others.
And yet, we are clearly instructed in this regard:
"...fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings."2The scriptures are full of so much wisdom. Of course, the fear of man brings a snare--if we are afraid to rise to our full potential because of what others might say, we will literally be ensnared as we make decisions to play it safe and not progress as we ought to progress.
"The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe."3
A friend once told me about how she lost a lot of weight after overhearing a colleague make fun of her large size. At her new lower weight she experienced a surge in energy and a elevation of mood and she was able to accomplish more and feel happier as a result. However, she soon began hearing snide remarks about how she probably had an eating disorder. She later became pregnant and gained much of the weight back. The same people who had whispered about her supposed eating disorder then shifted their gossip to how much weight she had gained and how she was now too heavy. There will always be people who are jealous and who seek to cut off other people in their personal progressions, for whatever reason they may have that enables them to enjoy spreading misery. We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by the opinions of others, as they rarely ever serve to our benefit.
What we need to do is figure out what God would have us do with our day, our lives and then go DO IT. If we are carrying out HIS orders, it matters nothing what other mortals may think of us or our work, as we will have the confirmation from on high to sustain us as we complete our divinely-mandated works.
Each of us has come to this Earth with a mission from on high. Our talents and interests give us clues as to what that mission may be. Fervent prayer and a sincere desire to know what our Heavenly Father would have us accomplish with our lives will help us to more finely tune our course so as to line up our actions with His will. If we are busily engaged in the work of the Creator of this world, the Creator of our mortal shells, does it matter what friend, family member, neighbor or stranger thinks of us?
The other big experience that I've had this week happened in regards to our homeschool. I took Bluebird shopping for some new clothes one afternoon, and while riding in the car I asked her how she thought school was going. One of her answers pricked at my heart: "I used to like math, but I don't anymore because it's too easy and review-ish. It's boring now." This small utterance worked itself over in my mind for the rest of the day, and the next morning I had come to the decision to let her take the next unit test, and to keep letting her work through the tests until she arrived at a spot in our curriculum where she no longer felt the work was "too easy." I cancelled work in all other subjects so that I could work with her closely and observe her reactions to the new problems as they rose. She completed every test in the book with a score of 100%.
I started to freak out a little bit as she pushed up into the higher chapters. The thought that we might need to just skip this entire level and begin working in the next book crossed my mind; and, weirdly enough, my reaction to that thought was, "People are going to think I'm some overbearing homeschooler who is pushing my child too hard." I stopped myself immediately after thinking this thought and reflected--was I afraid to let my child rise to her potential because of the opinions of other people? Was I hesitant to allow my child to progress in the way she needed because I feared the remarks of others who were not present in our classroom each day and therefore had no understanding of what the "math situation" was like? Why in the world was I allowing the predicted opinions of others hinder Bluebird's progress? Why was I afraid?
And then it dawned on me: Satan does not want Bluebird to rise to her full potential. He wants her talented mind to become bored and find other ways to satisfy its ravenous curiosity. He wants her to become stagnant and disillusioned with her education. And he was using me and my people-pleasing tendencies to try to accomplish that end. He was playing on my anxieties over finances and throwing the cost of purchasing the next level of curriculum at me. Over and over I "heard" the sarcastic comments in my head about overbearing mothers who set unobtainable expectations for their children.
I knew I was heading for "the crazy place" with this line of thinking, so I dropped my head and uttered a silent request to my Heavenly Father that He would help me know what to do. A quiet peace settled over me and I received the thought of "If the next level is too hard, you can always back up." No long sermon about potential and celestial glory; just a simple, profound assurance that it would all work out in the end. It filled me with peace and a quiet joy that perhaps this was the correct path to follow. I ordered the next level.
"For the LORD God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."4Who cares what others may think of Bluebird jumping so far ahead in her studies? It is part of her journey and denying it will only frustrate her progression. The opinions of others can rain down like hail, but I am confident in the direction we are to travel and will not alter our course to appease the gallery. I know it's not a big story like the ones we like to hear about life-altering experiences, but it was a decisive moment for me; and I believe it is the cumulation of our small decisions that determine the total sum of our faith.
Each of us is so incredibly special and loved dearly by our Heavenly Father, who has sent us to this Earth that we might have joy and continue on our journey towards exaltation and brilliant perfection. He is on our side and He wants us to succeed; unlike others who, for reasons specific to each of them, are threatened by the bold life of a person committed to rising above the norm. We need to throw off our cloaks of fear and embrace the light-filled life of accomplishing our divine directives. Only then will we have happiness and peace and lasting joy. It serves no one but the adversary when we shrink from rising to our full potential.
Whose side are you working for?
12 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)
22 Nephi 8:7
3Proverbs 29:25 (KJV)
42 Nephi 7:7