15 January 2006

charity: a reflection in three parts.

christmas. at some point just before christmas, my mom told me that my dad had invited two women from their ward to join us for christmas eve. my immediate response was to be peeved. i like my holidays quiet. i don't want to entertain a bunch of people and feel obliged to talk to them if i don't feel like it. i hate small talk with strangers. i don't like trying to find something i have in common with them to talk about. and i made it known to my mom that i wished we could just have a quiet holiday.

but my dad had already made the invitation. and one of the women had agreed. and the other one called on christmas eve to tell us she was rearranging other plans so she could come and be with us. needless to say, i was not pleased.

but once something can't be changed i'm not one to be all snotty about it. so i set to work and helped my mom prepare all kinds of food and set the table pretty and fold the napkins like lotus flowers. and the two women came and one of them was a bit dour and the other one was a bit effervescent. and i was a bit sulky.

until i stopped worrying about how they were ruining my christmas and instead let myself realize how happy they were to be with us. these two beautiful women who didn't have families to be with that night. rather than having a christmas eve i had to suffer through, i ended up enjoying myself and the laughter these two women brought with them into our home.

resolution. i don't often make new year's resolutions. i'm not very good at keeping them. but this year i have made one. i am something of a thinker. and i have been trained by my graduate programs to think by taking other people's thoughts apart. breaking ideas down into component parts to see if they work. what results often sounds negative. because it leads me to point out the ways in which another person's work is inadequate or wrong. this is in part a necessary evil. to make one's way in the world of academia, it's vital to find an opening. some niche that you can make your own. and that can only happen when you show that everyone else has failed to see things your way (which is, of course, the correct way).

but i don't like the fact that this response leaves others feeling like i'm always trying to show them how their thoughts are lacking, how they are weak. it makes it sound like i'm condescending and i don't like being condescending.

i still want to think critically. and i still want to recognize the ways in which an idea may not be sufficient. but i want to read more generously. i want to go with someone in their thoughts and their argument, try to understand it. find the ways in which their thoughts fit with mine, areas where they overlap, places at which there is a gap between them. and try to adjust my own thinking to incorporate the good of theirs while maintaining the good of mine. it is time for more intellectual charity in my life.

god & i.
i have been thinking lately about how i have dealt with the fact that i am not where i think i should be. i think i should be married. with a baby. or maybe even two. of course, that's fairly irrational given that i've never even had a legitimate opportunity to marry (i don't count the time a guy i knew showed up at my house and told me god wanted me to marry him as legitimate). but i still haven't let the irrationality of my expectation prevent me from being angry at god for not giving me what i think i deserve. i have tried not to be angry. because i'm pretty sure getting angry at god doesn't accomplish a whole lot. at least nothing positive. it has certainly worked to undermine my happiness.

a couple of weeks ago i was talking to a friend about this issue. not about my anger. more about the fact that i have essentially reached the conclusion that i will most likely never marry. and i got a little weepy (as i'm prone to do). he looked at me and asked me if my being married is a good thing. the answer seemed so obvious that i looked at him funny and then answered yes. his reply was simple: then pray for it. because we have been told that when we ask god in faith for something which is good, he will give it to us.

i wasn't convinced it was that easy and left the conversation a bit skeptical. but i've been thinking about it. about this idea that if we exercise faith and ask god for good things, he will give them to us. that our faith truly is a tool that we can use to bring about good in the world. and i've thought about how i have responded to this particular problem in my life. i certainly have not responded with faith. i have responded with anger and anguish. and with fear. but not with much faith. and it occurs to me that i have not been charitable to god. i have not loved him and believed in his goodness--not where i am concerned. it is time for a more simple faith. trust that god does love me and will provide for me. a more pure love of god--not for what i think he can do for me (that love transforming to anger when he doesn't deliver), but for his essential goodness and mercy and love.


  1. Hi Amy,
    What a thoughtful post. I'll respond to the last part. I have mixed feelings about what your friend told you. I respect and admire that pure kind of faith, probably because it's so entirely foreign to me. It's simple and beautiful and good. But I have a hard time putting that kind of trust in God. There just seem to be so many times when people have pure faith and pray sincerely and things don't come turn out the way they want. I'm sure many of the tsunami victims, or earthquake victims had that kind of faith as they watched their families die...

    What I do like about your friend's approach is the way it's made you feel. That God loves you and is good. I personally don't know how much God interferes in our personal affairs, but I do like to believe in his essential goodness. And perhaps even more, I believe in our own individual power to carve out meaning and happiness, even when our situations don't fit our preconceived ideas (often generated as ideal from the pulpit) of what we need to be happy. And in my experience, it is often when people have reached that point of happiness and fulfillment with life that opens doors and opportunities for others to become a part of their lives.

    (By the way, as you know, I am nowhere near that point, as I am often filled with angst and self-doubt about the direction my life is taking as well as anger about the world's iniquities... I think Mike would love it if I could find that confidence and peace I am talking about. But it's really not that simple to get rid of, is it?)

  2. I have been wanting to put a comment on this post. Such a neat juxtaposition of thoughts. I am most moved by the last one. Although, regarding your resolution section in the middle, I have also decided to be less critical of other people's opinions--to be generous in giving someone credit for having thought something through and decided what to think. Especially where certain political and religious viewpoints (and certain family members) are concerned. I don't want to get caught up in thinking my beliefs are better than someone else's. And I don't want them to think that of mine either. We were talking a little about this tonight at dinner (which was so great, BTW, and not just the food--good company!).

    And then there's your last section. I am admiring you in so many ways. I often find myself disappointed because my expectations weren't met in this or that part of my life. But I admire your faith, your willingness to give it a go, and the poise with which you handle it all. I really am not sure I could imagine the pain of expecting something that I'd been promised and that was a good thing to desire and then having to wait and wait and not see when it's supposed to happen. You are brave and strong. I'm happy for you having this change in perspective.

  3. Caroline,

    I often feel the way you do. i don't like to think about prayer as being a formula for getting what i want or what i think i need, because it's impossible for me to reconcile getting something even as significant as a beautiful and health marriage and family with others getting things even more significant--like food or shelter or life. what i'm trying to get at now, though, is very different. i want to use prayer not as a means of actually getting the good things i pray for, but rather as a means of loving god. of acknowledging him for all the good beautiful powerful crazy things he is without there being a sense of obligation moving in the direction from him to me as a result of my prayers. i want to stop thinking of prayer as magic and think of it more as communion. and by doing so, making it possible for my faith to be a constructive force through the happiness and sinsitivity that i think comes from communing with god.

  4. brooke,

    thanks so much for your thoughts. i've had to do my share of learning to be more generous where other people's political and religious viewpoints are concerned. i think it was one of the hardest lessons i have had to learn. but as i've tried--and by tried i mean really worked hard at--i've learned to love those people more. because being generous requires thinking in their grooves for a bit. searching for the process by which they apprehend realities and then mesh them into an understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, how the world should be. i haven't made as much progress as i want to. i still grind my teeth in frustration when certain people comment. but at least i'm thinking about it.

    and i've learned how very valuable laughter can be when it comes to dealing with anxiety-inducing opinions presented by strangers in large settings (thinking particularly of church here...).