Monday, December 21, 2009

On Getting Older

I'm grateful I was born a few days before Christmas. It's one of the few times that I can cater to my minimalist self. I never have to schedule parties or come up with a list of things I want, since my birthday gets thrown into the mix. And Christmas and New Years are so much more involving that everyone has forgotten about me and can move on before long. At the same time, I'm grateful for a large family and lots of friends that make being a minimalist somewhat impossible. But mostly I'm grateful for the time that the holidays give me to think and to reflect. I look back on the past and can see so much change. A year ago I wrote about the realization that blessings and trials are the same in God's eyes. Two years ago, the Lord told me to write a book. Three years ago, I was a missionary in Florence. So much has happened - some good, some not-so-good; I've had more brushes with the adversary and more encounters with God, I've written books and composed songs, performed in plays and become a real, live physics teacher. And still, every time I feel like I understand life a little bit better, the Lord opens another door and I realize how clueless I really am.

We had our Christmas program at church today. I thought the entire program was amazing – from the choir numbers to the duets to the messages given by the speakers. Shortly after the program, though, I had to smile, as I was barraged with compliments. Long story short: the choir director had asked me to sing “I Wonder as I Wander” as a solo, a capella. From the nature of the comments, I think that many people who are uncomfortable performing without accompaniment think someone who isn't must be awesome. I'm a great singer; my voice is soothing; even without accompaniment it was perfect. Maybe I'm beginning to believe them. Maybe not. It's a lot more convenient to believe that compliments like that come from people who are caught up in the spirit of the moment, clueless, or very gracious. The other option – that they are sincere, aware, and knowledgeable of their statement – makes me uncomfortable. If I have a talent, the next step is massive internal reflection: What more should I be doing to share it with the world? Even though I'm in Savior of the World and two ward choirs, I could definitely be doing more.

I realize now that, for a long time, I didn't want to know what the Lord wanted me to do with performance. I wasn't willing to dedicate my life to it because I didn't feel it would make a big enough difference in the world. I thought it would be a selfish pursuit, and I had other important gifts to develop and use to build the kingdom. Afterwards, I realized that I was wrong to superimpose my own values as to what was important on God. Now? I've asked Him to help me determine the next step and I have conflicting feelings. I have a burning desire to throw myself into music performance – to take whatever steps are necessary to share my voice with the world. I would need to record a demo CD, network like crazy, find a great voice teacher, and ultimately spend more time and money than I've ever spent in my life. And the other emotion is... fear? Unwillingness? Wanting to simply wait? It must be fear, since it's hiding from me right now. I'm afraid of the ramifications if I succeed. And I'm afraid of the ramifications if I fail. If I succeed, I'm afraid it will ruin me. I've seen so many people who have been successful in their dreams and then turned away from God. I just want to be a faithful person and live a faithful life. If I fail, I'm afraid... I guess I'm really afraid of succeeding, not failure. I've come to realize that failure is a necessary part of learning which way to go in life. Failure isn't even a bad thing for me anymore. I didn't get into Stanford. Was it a failure? Maybe. It probably just means that Stanford wasn't the right direction for me. But success... success is different. It's wild and untamed. It's akin to finding an active volcano right before it erupts, then trying to balance on a rock as you are flung higher and higher into the air. I guess I'm also afraid of not being in control of my life. Either way, fears mean only one thing: I lack faith and need to trust in the Lord.

That opens up a world of questions for me... all the times I avoided doing something though I was good at it – what was the motivating factor then? But the Lord is telling me that those reflections aren't really important right now. Back on subject. I've found that explaining through my fears and looking at them has been the fundamental step in overcoming them. I'll try it now. Why am I afraid of going down an uncharted road – putting my life into God's hands? Because I want to be in control. I want to know what is happening and what comes next. And the telling question: which is more important to me – being in control of my life or allowing God to guide my ship? Something within me cries out, “This question isn't important. God would never ask me to surrender that.” But He already has. And this is the test. Is it really the right direction? Or will an angel stop me in the midst? It doesn't matter, because the choice that I make will have been made, and I will have proved myself one way or another. Being guided by the Lord is more important than being in control of the direction in my life. Wherever He calls me, whatever He asks me to do, whomever He asks me to be... and so my fear is gone. I know that He will guide me, direct me, and prepare the path before me.

As we grow towards perfection, each of us will encounter fear – gaps in our faith. At its heart, all fear (except maybe clinically diagnosed phobia) is a lack of faith. Sometimes it can be easier to live with fear than to face it and dive into its meaning – to search out what roots it to our lives. Maybe that's because, ultimately, overcoming our fears requires change. It may seem trite to say that a fear of heights or spiders comes from a lack of faith, but the same process through which I overcame my fear of losing control worked for my fear of the dark, of heights, of spiders, and of failure. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of faith. And as we honestly address our fears, He will help us to overcome them... and even to make them into our greatest strengths.

I know that God is our Father. Ultimately, He will ask us to give up the things that are most important to us. Whether we act upon faith or fear is our choice. As we act in faith, He will bless and guide us, enabling us to grow beyond anything we could have accomplished alone. Go out and be missionaries!

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