Monday, October 4, 2010

The Best and Worst of Times...

"A Tale of Two Cities" is one of several books by Dickens that I enjoyed reading in high school, and once again I find myself relating to its most famous quote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." We've all heard this reference more than once, but have you ever paid attention to the passage in its entirety? The words are so timely they could have been written today, which is the mark of great literature:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

What a great description of the human condition this is! Even the best of us go through periods when, perched upon our own ambivalence, we navigate the days in a state of existential discomfort, so wrapped up in routine or rumination that we fail to land on the sunny side of the conflicting paradigms Dickens portrayed. In such moments, the peace and happiness we seek are held hostage by our shifting, frequently circumstance-driven points of view. Inertia sets in, and we lose sight of both the good things in life and the Giver of them.

Yesterday, as I listened to the semi-annual general conference of my church, Elder Richard C. Edgely reminded me of a simple truth, that "the worst of times can be the best of times, through faith." To be honest, hearing this was not an "aha" moment for me; I already know and understand this principle. It was more of an "oh, yeah" moment. Experience has taught me what I need to know about exercising faith on a daily basis, and yet I am continually in need of a reminder...not just now and then, but on a regular basis. Somehow, caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and my unruly brain, I forget my recurring resolution to remember the Lord's words, "Be still, and know that I am God." Even though they are prominently displayed in my home, emblazened on a bronze plaque in my living room, I forget them. *sigh*

One thing is certain: Life will never be an easy ride, nor was it intended as one. Learning can't take place in a vacuum; growth requires challenge, and obstacles are the norm rather than the exception. It will always be our decision to view living and its attendant struggles as either the best or worst of times. It will also be our decision how to proceed. Of course, we all differ in our reactions and coping mechanisms. My "go-to" tendency has always been to grab hold of the reins and gallop, full speed, to the rescue...of myself and others. I am still learning that rescue is not necessarily the answer, and that acceptance is most often the "cure." Despite my predilection for big answers and big solutions, I have come to realize that "by small and simple things are great things come to pass" (Alma 37:6). It's true, as Leonardo Da Vinci said (and President Uchtdorf quoted in his talk yesterday), that "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." What's more, the pursuit and practice of simplicity is the only way to make room for the Lord in our lives. And that's what faith is all about.

I wrote the following sonnet several years before its publication in 1999. (In other words, a long time ago!)

©1999, Awaken Your Spiritual Power, Susan Noyes Anderson, Karisma Press

A boat is life, a vessel in the gale
Tossed by the wind and driven through the night;
A hapless cutter, searching for the light
That used to dance and shimmer on a sail
Once bright and proud, bedraggled now, and pale.
Life’s boat. The oarsman struggles with its plight,
Unwitting victim of his self-made might,
Each desperate thrusting doomed, at last, to fail.

Humbled, the oarsman tries to understand
The currents that assail him fore and aft;
He struggles with the oars until, unmanned,
He hurls them through the tempest like a shaft.
Henceforth, the raging waters he’ll withstand
By trusting in the Maker of his craft.

Here I am...still working on throwing my flailing oars into the water and trusting my Maker. I find some comfort in Peter's lapse of faith, even while he was walking on water, with the Master in plain view. Peter eventually got it right, and so will I.

"And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:25-31).


Dixie Mom said...

It really was a wonderful conference, wasn't it? Nothing earth shattering, but like you said...a reminder. But it was like a light bulb went off in my head for the first time, that this applied to me! It's me that needs to act instead of being acted upon.
We'll get's nice to know we're all struggling with basically the same things.

Jess said...

That talk struck a chord with me too, as well as Pres. Monson's about gratitude.

Love the poem- sometimes I think I've flung the oars, and then in my narrow sightedness I quickly try to get them back, even before I've even tried trusting Heavenly Father.

Cheryl said...

Acceptance is my only problem today.

Amy said...

I love Conference. Really, it is the best times of the year. So much spiritual feasting! And I love your poem! The analogy of the oars is so powerful. Probably because it is so true.

Snarky Belle said...

Amen Sister Sue!!!
Also, I say ditto to Dixie Mom and Jess.
I love smart women!!
p.s. Your sonnet is beautiful.

jen said...

Wasn't conference awesome?
Halfway through, Micah said, "Why do we watch Conference?" I told him it was a commandment, and he said, ". . . Huh."
I guess I'm failing as a parent! :)

Karen Sue said...

Our church is a big mess right now and we are waiting for a preacher to exit so that we may begin the healing and rebuilding that is necessary. Not a good experience...we do have lots of faith and hope...that God is directing this change, that by being tried a bit, we'll all be stronger, that we will be willing to be involved and that things will turn around. It is tough watching your church die.
But he said to me,"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses," ......"For when I am weak, than I am strong" 2Corinthians 12:9-10

yaya said...

I truly enjoyed conference this weekend. I loved Pres. Monson's talk about gratitude and Bro. Holland's talk that was so touching as he said a thank you to his parents. It reminded me to be more grateful and less doubting in the Lord's power. Less worried about what "people" may say or do to me and more trusting in God. Your poem is just beautiful. I'd love to hear you speak in sacrament sometime!

Cherie said...

It is very interesting how the truths of this crazy world, this crazy life are seen in every generation throughout history and they are recorded in the words of plays and poems and stories. I have always found these "circular truths" very interesting.
I loved Conference. I think every year I appreciate and love it even more as my understanding of Gospel truths grows even greater.
Your poem is beautiful!

Laraine Eddington said...

It makes me laugh when I remember thinking conference was boring when I was a little child. Now I anticipate it like Christmas and mourn when it is over. It is a drink of pure water when I am thirsty.

Darlene said...

Beautiful thoughts, well expressed. I just need to exercise my faith a lot more. Life is hard, living is hard,but my desire to do so is great so I will keep going. You got a lot out of conference, as did we . I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks and was even a bit resentful, when Dick went to the Priesthood session at the church, that I couldn't be in attendance. I actually hated for it to be over, but am looking forward to renewed help when the Ensign comes with all the talks printed, so that I can really study them, or, as they say in our church, "ponder" them. I needed all of the talks. Thanks for your comments on some of them.

Donna said...

Good that I needed to hear just now...thankyou, friend!!

karen said...

I love it always, but it was somehow special this time, and I can't really explain why. There were so many times when I just all of a sudden "got" a concept, or was able to see the significance of a scripture. Nothing earth shattering, but it was a good feeling.

ps: I am like you - I forget to have faith sometimes, and I forget that everything isn't always up to me. We'll get there eventually, I reckon.

Momza said...

I loved Conference.
From E. Holland's talk first thing on Saturday morning,
to President Monson's final cheerful cup was filled to over-flowing.
I am getting better at "Being Still".

Grandma Honey said...

What a great summary of conference. At my age I am having more OH YEAH moments than I am having lightbulb moments, so I understand what you mean. But I need the OH YEAH moments, and I always will.

My name is PJ. said...

You are such a wordsmith, Sue! To be able to write a post that has Dickens, a beautiful poem and religion all intertwined is quite an accomplishment.

You're so right. Life isn't meant to be easy. Or fair. And no one ever learned a darn thing from 'the best of times'.

Nancy said...

Loved conference. K.C. and I were in SLC and attended 2 sessions. Couldn't stop the tears of gratitude as we entered that beautiful conference center and felt the love of our Savior surround us with all of the sweet spirits in attendance. The messages were well received and I especially enjoyed the love and humor that the speakers shared with us. AWESOME!!

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