Thursday, July 25, 2013

Words that have changed me: Words for the anxious.

Ever since I was a child, my brother took me under his wing, loved me, and showered me with his wisdom.  I know that God uses him as an instrument through which He speaks to me, and so to this day, anything he says goes straight to my heart and becomes engraved in my memory.

About two months ago, I went to him for advice.  I was worrying and crying for days on end about a problem a friend of mine was having.  And Tony said something true to me: "Only worry about the things that you can control."

Anxiousness and worry are things with which I have always struggled.  I have a talent of being able to see and plan things far into the future, but I may also abuse that talent.  I can easily get lost in worrying about the future and creating imagined anxiety for myself, completely losing focus on the here and now, the tangible moment which I can control.  But reflecting on that thought, the very things that I can control, I realized that I have much less control over things than I ever imagined.  And I realized why my life wasn't changing: because I wasn't changing those very things that I do have control over.

I thought I was being a good friend.  I thought I was being holy by letting my friend's problem dominate all my prayers and thoughts.  But I was wrong.  In fact, my many prayers exposed my doubt that God would answer them.  My many worries exposed my vanity and hypocrisy, preferring to consume my mind with the problems of others over which I have no control, rather than looking inward and consuming myself with fixing my many shortcomings.

As Tony explained to me, I should simply give her my opinion, pray for her, hand over the issue to God, and leave it at that.  I could not help her beyond that point, and if I cannot control her decisions nor control the world, why should I worry about it so much?  By worrying about something over which I have no control, I was neglecting so many other things that I do control.

Those words have PROFOUNDLY changed my thoughts and actions.  Every time I find myself ruminating over the past, the future, something, or someone, those words ring in my ears:  "Only worry about the things that you can control,"  and I quickly remember something productive I could be doing and focus my attention on that.  In this way, my worry becomes useful.  My worry can be a useful motivation, and can be turned into actions, rather than acting as a retarding force simply leading to paralysis.

Limiting one's concerns to what one can control also safeguards against a certain type of self-deception.  A few months ago I read a book entitled I Told Me So: Self-deception and the Christian Life.  In it the author explains that a self-deception tactic we may frequently employ is recasting our feelings of anger or hurt toward someone as "concern" for them:
Concern is a convenient disguise for anger, since "concern" for someone is a perfectly legitimate sentiment, and it seems to justify many of the behaviors one would expect from someone who's just plain hurt and mad. ... We're not angry with them, we just feel sorry for them. 
And so we go on, expressing our criticism and cynicism of them in our prayers, and gossiping about them to others, but that's okay, because we're doing it for their own good, we are concerned, we're being such Good Samaritans by spreading news of their problems or how they've wronged us.  BUT if one only worries about that which she can control, she has no need for these sort of thoughts of concern for others, and saves herself from this sort of deception.

The quality of not worrying and simply doing one's part and leaving the rest to God is something I greatly admire about the Virgin Mother.  There are so many instances in her life when she could have worried and argued with God, refused to do His will because she didn't understand, but instead, she simply obeyed God and allowed Him to manage her life as deemed fit.  And look at what she did for the world.

And so, I pass these words of truth along to you, and I hope you will use them when you are tempted to waste your energy worrying.  Only worry about the things that you can control.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Would I marry him?

As I approach "dating age," I'm observing and figuring out what I'd want in a potential husband, and I've come up with two weed out questions:

1. Is he the man I want my sons to grow up to be?
2. Is he the man I want my daughters to have as their definition of a man?

If the answer to either one of them is "no" then he is automatically off the potentials list (not that I have one...).

Why are these questions absolutely essential and important to me?

- They don't let my insecurities get in the way.
"But he's so charming..."
"But he likes me so much...I'll never meet a guy that likes me so much...."
"But he's so smart..."
"But he's *faints*"
"He said I look pretty.  He must therefore be the only man in the world who is physically attracted to me."
"Doctor? My mom might approve."
"Doctor AND deacon?  Mom approves."

No matter what is making me attracted to him right now, which may very likely be due to some insecurity of mine, they force me to think about what really matters.

They also force me out of the illusion that I can look at him for his potential.  "Oh he would be perfect, if only he were a little more mature, if only he had this, but that will change, I'm sure I can help him change."  As my father of confession wisely told me, "Nobody changes.  I know that from experience."  It forces me to say to myself, "No Martha, stop evading the question.  Is he NOW the man you want your sons to grow up to be?"

-They keep me objective.
He might be entertaining, he might be romantic, he might be a great friend, but will he be a good father?  Can we work together as a team?  It's easy to be short sighted and think marriage is all about me, what's most compatible with me, will be make me happy, but in reality the bulk of your married years are spent just raising kids together.

-They help me tap into my gut feelings about a person.
I just intuitively know the answer to these questions when I am considering a guy.  Rather than wasting my time trying to rationalize good and bad, if something is "off" about him, these questions will hit the nail on the head.

-They serve as a lens/frame/filter for any other qualities I'd want to put on my list of potential-husband qualities.
Puts my head in the right place first before adding superfluous qualities.

My sons will grow up to be who he is.  My daughters will have him as the model against which they judge every other man, as well as how they feel men should perceive and treat them as women.

I think these questions are ingenious and that everyone should use them when thinking about her future husband or his future wife.  You know you'll thank me later.

What are your thoughts?  Please tell me so I don't feel like a loser!