I’ve often felt stuck, stuck in bad habits I can’t seem to kick, stuck with my inhibitions keeping me from achievements just out of my reach, stuck in my inability to find just the right amount of discipline to do that one new thing regularly and consistently that, over time, can accumulate into something significant. I’ve doubted myself, I’ve not spoken up when I’ve had something to say, I’ve failed to make a connection with someone I really wanted to connect with. And once you’ve been in this feeling of stickiness for too long, it’s easy to give up hope.
It doesn’t help to belong to a culture that values competence and perfectionism. Where it’s better to know the answer than to have a question. I remember one example among many in life life, as freshman in college, taking a class in Materials Science Engineering. The teachers was droning on in a topic that was flying right over my head. The lecture hall was big, I was near the front. I scanned the audience and felt like I was the only kid in that class not getting it. In an effort to fit in, I tried to have a, I totally get this, look on my face. Afterward, to my relief, I realized, like me, everyone else was faking it too.
And that was indicative of my entire engineering undergraduate education. Professors, droning on complicated topics with little effort to really engage with students, students more interested in the appearance of keeping their heads above water. Later, in the quiet of a corner library or, more effectively, with the companionship of trusted friends, I would sweat over the material for hours until my actual competence approached my appearance.
Vulnerability is easier in the safety of dark corners.
And this battle to appear to know more than you really know has been persistent in my technology career. Computer software evolves so rapidly. There are just too many people pushing the envelope in too many areas to stay on top if it all. But at some point, far too long in my career, I realized the power of being vulnerable. I found my voice. Not always, not consistently. But somewhere along the line, a flipped switched. I can start asking questions, I can keep reading, and keep digging in, have difficult conversations, push the envelope. Expose my ignorance while I learn, connect and contribute at a deeper level.
And I find this in my religious life as well. Samuel Brown in his book, First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel, describes how church should be both a hospital and a museum. We should consider ourselves patients looking for healing and sustaining support from a community. This requires vulnerability. However, too often, the church acts more like a museum. We are all on display, showing off our best selves, keeping our problems hidden back within the safety of the walls of our home. In this sense, church can be a painful place, going each week, realizing in comparison to those on display around you, we feel broken, hopelessly falling short of the potential we so desperately want to achieve. Not realizing, of course, that those sitting with us in our pews are more likely than not feeling the exact same way.
Most people aren’t born competent. Most people aren’t born saints. We all have to work at it. We all have to sweat it out – I know there are those who are gifted with extra talent and just get there faster than the rest of us. And I realize, we all have our own talents and special gifts. We find find our lanes, find our voice, and then engage from our own unique point of view. This is true with any skill, piano or programming, but it’s also true in our ecclesiastical endeavors as well. We don’t usually magically wake up with extraordinary compassion or an amazing ability to show empathy or connection. These are skills. Showing love and concern, being a friend, lending a listening ear, finding the discipline for regular spiritual practice. All skills that take time to develop. In Letters to a Young Mormon, Adam Miller says it this way:
The gap between theory and practice is often biggest with the simplest things. You’ve promised to pray, but you’ll spend a lifetime learning how to pray. You’ve promised to study the scriptures, but you’ll spend a lifetime learning how to read them. And you’ve promised to give God everything – your time, your talents, your money – but you’ll spend a lifetime learning how to consecrate even a part. You cannot forfeit responsibility for this. You cannot wait for someone else to do them for you. If you do not work things out for yourself, they will never be done. You must learn how to body your religion out into the world with your own fingers and toes, eyes and ears, flesh and bones. This can only be done from the inside out.
You are a pioneer. Life has never before been lived in your body. Everything must be done again, as if for the first time. You are an aboriginal Adam, a primal Eve. You are a Mormon.
Linda Rising makes similar empowering points about development and growth in a technology context, that we can still learn and grow no matter our age. “We have some limitations, but we can always get better.” As a parent this is the message I want most to pass on to my kids: this idea that we can improve in any area as long as we continue to work at it, with patience and perseverance. We can improve. We are not static beings, forever trapped in our labels.
And this, for me, is the message of Easter, a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Christ. It comes at the beginning of spring every year, just as the days are getting longer, the air is getting warmer, our plants are getting greener. It’s the season of renewal and rebirth. Every year is a new year, every day a new day. I love the idea that each night is our opportunity to lie down as if dying and to wake up to a day of new possibilities.
And each day, each year, day after day, month after month, year after year, we can continue to make the same resolutions, the same desire to quit something old or start something new. I think we can keep trying, keep probing. At some point, the lightbulb will go off, the switch will be flipped, we will take a quantum step in growth.
And I agree, the Easter story doesn’t make a lot of sense. Easter is a season where we celebrate a brutal, violent death. We take our family each year to watch a really impressive retelling of the story. My little children watch Christ getting whipped, they hear the nails getting pounded into His flesh, and they see Christ struggle and die on the cross. Then, they see his triumph over death. The story concludes with a resurrected Christ floating upward towards heaven. It’s universal event, a singular moment in history and the foundation for all of Christianity. The straight forward application of this story is to reduce it to single moments in a person’s life. At some point, they need to be converted. Then, at some point, they will die and be judged. Then resurrected, redeemed and saved.
But this interpretation simply doesn’t work for me practically. I prefer to see it happening in the micro-moments of my every day life, applying Christ’s grace in the minute decisions of my day. More than anything, I think for me, at its core, it’s a message of hope, a vote of confidence and an injection of faith that at some point, I can change and improve. That eventually, I’ll get unstuck. That I’ll accomplish, I’ll connect, I’ll belong. That eventually, I’ll find renewal, restoration, for myself individually, but more importantly, in my relationships.