Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cycles

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the April 1974 Conference.
I sometimes think I'm more aware than I ought to be of what's coming next. I was always a just-get-it-over-with sort of person, ever since I was a little girl choking down bottled apricots so I could get to the tastier parts of my dinner. I couldn't enjoy anything else until I knew the thing I didn't like was out of the way! Even now, I still almost always save my favorite bite for last. And if someone offers me good news and bad news, I'll take the bad news first every time.

It goes further. For years now, Friday has been my favorite day of the week, because that's the day there are the most days of weekend ahead to look forward to. In the same way, Spring is my favorite season, because you still have the delights of Summer and Fall ahead before Winter comes. And…it's embarrassing to admit this, because I LOVE the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It may be my favorite day of all! But no matter how I try to stop it, every year as I sit outside enjoying the warm, stretched-out dusk, there's a little voice in my head reminding me, "The days are only getting shorter from here

This tendency gets me in trouble. Sometimes when I save my favorite part of the meal for last…I'm already full by the time I get to it! And for years, my Spring-and-Friday preferences have given me a sort of dread of Autumns and Sundays, just out of the contrary feeling that those times are when all the good things start to come to an end. It's haunting me in child-raising as well, when I find myself already mourning the loss of what isn't even lost yet, and dwelling on how these are surely going to be the happiest years with my children and…they're slipping by, they're falling away, marching ever closer to their inevitable end.

I don't know exactly what my problem is. Maybe it really is just a hyper-awareness of what's to come; a compulsive looking-ahead; an inability to relax and enjoy what is NOW. Maybe an innate desire for the happy ending; a preference for dispensing with the bad things quickly and being done with them, the better to enjoy the good. And so I find myself living a paradox: wanting to get quickly through the dark and cloudy parts of life so I can feel the sunshine—but at the same time, when the sunshine comes, feeling like I can't really savor it until there are no clouds on the horizon—and there are always clouds on the horizon, in one direction or another!

It can drive a person crazy, this circular thinking, especially when you're not sure where the circle starts or ends. (I've written SO much on it—it's one of "my themes" for sure.) Am I waiting for something better or dreading something worse? Is summer anything more than the beginning of winter? Maybe I'd be happier living these child-heavy years backwards, so we could END with the darling, wriggling, tiny babies? But that very thought exposes an obvious flaw in my thinking, because while those few months with a new baby are wonderful…they aren't actually the BEST part of childhood. At least, they weren't until I'd already had a few kids and realized how fleeting they were. And so many things about them are HARD; things that get better as time goes on. There are good things about every stage—and I'm not just saying that to put a cheerful face on things. I think in many ways, I enjoy Abe and Seb now more than I ever have! So it's really not true to say that all the good times come at the beginning, and it's certainly not true that I enjoyed them more at the beginning! My enjoyment increases more and more with time, experience, and perspective.

Old age, as I hurtle toward it, promises more of the same. A lot of peace and improvement and confidence, accompanied by pain and uncertainty and new challenges. And if I feel like nothing can be good unless it's wholly good, unclouded by the next thing cycling around…well then, I'm not going to enjoy anything ever, because those years are ahead of me, coming faster and faster. The gradual breakdown of the body, and then death. (But then…a new birth. So there is good on the horizon even then.)

Anyway, I'm exasperated with myself, and I don't want to keep falling into these old patterns of thinking. One breakthrough has come just in the last year or so as I've been working on making the Sabbath "a delight." As I said before, I used to quite dread Sundays—not for themselves, but because they represented (what I saw as) the end of a happy weekend, and our family time together. Sure, there was a whole day to go till Monday, but I was anticipating so aggressively that my Sundays suffered too! It's a cultural construct as well, of course; isn't everyone supposed to hate Mondays? And then why not Sundays, preemptively?

But when President Nelson urged us to find ways to make the Sabbath a delight, I resolved to somehow change my attitude. I've been looking for ways to make Sunday different from every other day. I go to sleep on Saturday night telling myself, "Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will be a day for God." I wake up and say to myself, "Hooray, it's Sunday! Today I will rest and be at peace. Today I will be renewed for the week to come." I started to say this even before I quite believed it, and little by little, it has become true! It feels miraculous. And something else has happened: my Sundays have lengthened! They used to be over almost before I knew it, but now, somehow, they have room for all sorts of things—almost everything I need to do, and even more. I'm still working on improving my Sunday worship, but I've come far enough that I know how possible improvement is, and that gives me even more resolve.

So I have a goal this year, as I wrote earlier, to do the same with Winter. To try not to dread it or hate it, but just accept it. To not look so anxiously or so frantically toward Spring that I miss what the quiet and stillness of Winter has to offer. I suppose I resolve this to some extent every year, but maybe this time it will take? I'd like to be at peace with how the natural world runs, in cycles: Winter always comes…but then, so does Spring! And after that, it must be admitted, Winter again! What are we to understand from such a set-up? Are we to be always looking for Spring? Or always keeping in mind that Winter is just around the corner? I often think of Benjamin Franklin's observation about the sun on George Washington's chair: was it a rising sun or a setting sun? That same question sums up so much of life!

And now it occurs to me, without really understanding fully, that there may be something beyond this back-and-forth mindset—something truer or deeper. Something that encompasses the whole cycle and finds joy in it. I'm not sure what heaven will be. Perhaps a permanent Spring, a permanent happy ending. But I can't think that's quite all of it, because "there must be opposition." Even when the victory is won and the celestial prize gained, there will be…Gods with their own children? Choosing evil, some of them? Choosing rebellion and alienation?

Yet even then, I have to think, the good must circle back. After the night, the day. Grace and mercy, light and truth. Those are God's realities. Those are God.

Clearly, my mindset is ill-adapted for these eternal truths. Still, I'm searching for what I can learn from cycles. "His course is one eternal round." I know they're important, because I'm seeing them everywhere! For example, from a talk by Elder S. Dilworth Young:
We can take comfort that the great events of the future have been prophesied in considerable detail, and that when they are fulfilled, the events of that fulfillment will occur as naturally and as surely as have those of the distant past. There will be scoffers and disbelievers in that day also, who will, up until the very moment of the appearance of the Son of Man, declare that the believers are fools for believing.
I feel such a sense of…hmm…place in God's plan as I read this. Prophets have always seen what was to come. There have always been skeptics, too, who are sure the prophets will be proved wrong. We are as much a part of that cycle as were those in Noah's day, or Lehi's, or Christ's! Just as blind. Just as susceptible to error. But just as much in God's hand, too, if we will stay there.

Then there's Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
The Preexistence is not some remote and mysterious place. All of us are but a few years removed from the Eternal Presence, from him whose children we are and in whose house we dwelt. All of us are separated by a thin veil only from the friends and fellow laborers with whom we served on the Lord’s errand before our eternal spirits took up their abodes in tabernacles of clay. 
True, a curtain has been drawn so we do not recall our associations there. But we do know that our Eternal Father has all power, all might, all dominion, and all truth and that he lives in the family unit. We do know that we are his children, created in his image, endowed with power and ability to become like him. We know he gave us our agency and ordained the laws by obedience to which we can obtain eternal life. We know we had friends and associates there. We know we were schooled and trained and taught in the most perfect educational system ever devised, and that by obedience to his eternal laws we developed infinite varieties and degrees of talents.
Again that sense of belonging! We were with God before. We will be with him again. Our talents and education span these eras in our existence. The circles stretch backward and forward, but we are continually in them, as is our Father. He has not left us alone.

And then Elder Franklin D. Richards shows how cycles shape even the most personal of narratives:
It should be recognized that testimonies can be acquired, testimonies can be kept, and testimonies can be lost…To those of you who feel that you have a firm testimony, remember: a testimony is never static; a testimony can be lost. To keep it alive, it must be fed. Continue to study, pray, attend church, and be involved. This will not only keep your testimony alive, but it will expand and become more meaningful in your life.
There's the familiar worrying reminder of cycles: sure, you have a testimony NOW, but is it waxing or waning? Must we always be worrying that things will change? But—here there is also a new insight added. Certainly the solidity of a testimony is real, Elder Richards says. So is its impermanence: but only if we forget it and let it dwindle. If we continually nourish it, it will become "a tree springing up into everlasting life"—and I find no suggestion of winter or old age in that description. Just "everlasting life." A living testimony, constantly fed, can endure forever! Is it an exception to the law of cycles? Or perhaps an expansion of it?

Well, this post has been just the sort of thing I hate: a bunch of what-ifs and musings without any sort of conclusion, bringing up more questions than it answers. It's because I don't yet know how to draw these threads closed. But I will make one more attempt at closure with this quote, which I found via this encouraging post:
The answer is: everything is doomed, but the more interesting question is: “And then what?” And the surprising answer is, “Well, then they get un-doomed.” And what’s more: all the work put in before is not for naught:
The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh. 
So: it is good that you’ve noticed a downward slide in society. But that should not make you despair that it’s unrecoverable, or applies to every individual, and nor should it make you despair from seeing the far ending, because you haven’t looked far enough.
I love that. If we're seeing the bad-follows-good view, rather than the good-follows-bad view, we just "haven't looked far enough!" I don't know how it all works, but because I trust God, I think the cycles are meant to comfort us. It all depends on where you start and where you end—and didn't we start with God? Didn't we start with family and goodness and light? And God promises that we can end there, too, which suggests that cycles are meant to show us that good things always come around again. Light always prevails.

These verses below, maybe my favorite of any in the entire scriptures, seem to suggest that, like that living testimony Elder Richards hinted at, the cycle—someday—can change its nature. Certainly, eternal life is a type of cycle, but not the type we're used to, taking us from light to dark or youth to age:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new… 
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
Somehow, I think, in the end, God will transcend the cycles we know: the cycles of sin and pride and failure. The cycles that keep bringing us away from Him. Because when the whole of our cycles, when the beginnings AND the ends of our existence, are founded in an alpha-and-omega God, there WILL be both the eternal rest, the happy ending—and also the progression forward, the refusal to stagnate. I don't comprehend it, but I can almost feel it. And whether because the need for opposition has passed, or because we carry our own light forever with us, I think in that day, the darkness will never come again.

Other posts in this series:

7 comments:

  1. You are a modern, female C.S. Lewis. This was just beautiful and exactly what I needed to hear. I dread winter now (mostly because of our driveway dangers and worrying if my kids will be warm enough and if we have enough snow gear), and I need to view it this way. Thanks for being so inspiring and insightful!

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    1. It's especially hard because winter seems so LONG, and that must be doubly hard for you up there! But we'll try. And you gave me the greatest compliment ever. THANK you. If only I could draw rational conclusions like C.S. Lewis does instead of just floundering about feeling like I'm on the verge of understanding... :)

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  2. I feel that way a lot of the time, too! It's so silly to be sad about missing something when it's literally happening RIGHT NOW, but I promise you it's possible, because I do it! I love that you are trying to change and being patient with yourself, because real change takes time. That is one of the things I'm learning as I get older. (I may even be really wise one day if I live to be about 500-600 years old.)

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    1. Haha. I always think about what an irrational person I am, but knowing it doesn't stop me! :) I agree about changing sliiiightly for the better as time goes on. I loved what someone in general conference said about comparing yourself with your past self instead of with others! (Elder Cornish, I think it was?) I often can only see the improvements in myself over long periods of years, and it's encouraging because otherwise I feel like I'm always just stagnating.

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  3. I dislike spring for the very reason that I know it ushers in hated, horrible, hot, summer. I've often thought we have weather cycles so everyone gets a little taste of what they like best. Your analysis is much more thoughtful. :)

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    1. I know all about your strange abhorrence of summer! And I think of it often. Like when I'm sad about summer ending, I'll think, "Well, at least Andrea will be happy..." :) It IS nice that there's a little something for everyone in the seasons.

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  4. I can't imagine a better closure to this post than the one you gave. All of your thoughts are absolutely beautiful and inspiring and hopeful!

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