Over the holidays, I had the chance to visit with an old chum from high school. Like me, she grew up in a tumultuous household, and walked out of such carrying old wounds with which she will likely grapple for her entire time on this earth. One of the outcomes of her childhood dysfunction is struggling with addiction (yes, it happens to Mormons, too!).
She bared her soul to me and shared that as of late, she’d been slipping some, despite what seemed to be her best efforts to maintain her course. Granted, here we were some years older, this woman now with a family, children, a beautiful home, and a husband who loves her very much—yet still bedeviled by a past where unsettling voices never cease to quiet.
I can’t cure my friend, but I can offer her a compassionate ear. I can speak to her kindly, give her gentle encouragement, and help her focus on the things she has succeeded in—like the mere fact that she has recovery is a gift from our Savior, and nothing will take away those years of sobriety. The key, for my friend, was willingness to go back to the very first step, and—like a child leaning on a parent, allow our Savior to guide her easily and carefully back to where she needs—and wants—to be.
As I walked away from that conversation, I began to think about the nature of compassion. Why does it seem relatively easy to be compassionate with someone we care about, yet when we find fault in ourselves, and notice ourselves slipping back into patterns we thought we’d eradicated, we’re the loudest critics in the room?
I was able to experience this first hand upon my trip home. A long forgotten character defect began to rear its ugly head again in my life. At first I ignored it, denied it, and pretended it wasn’t as serious as it was. Soon, my Savior granted me an opportunity to see not only how this behavior was harming me and was leading me where I didn’t want to go, but also showed me how this defect hurt other people—especially those I care about.
Fortunately, I was quick enough in my spiritual soundness to recognize this as a “God Moment:” a turning point, where my Savior knows me well and loves me enough to keep me on a short leash in some areas, and give me opportunities to correct myself. For that, I was grateful.
Yet, despite my gratitude, I launched into a silent campaign of self-criticism, self-condemnation, and self-hatred. How could I have been so stupid to not see this? How could I be so arrogant to think that I could engage in something that was so clearly a problem for me in the past—and get away with it? Moreover, who could possibly love me—my list of human frailties is lengthy on my best day, and I’ve chosen to add to them with poor choices. Who would ever want that as a partner, a friend, or a companion?
Then it dawned on me: I had become my friend back home, who’d reached out her hand to me for a realistic viewpoint on herself. And I, in turn, reached out my hand to another trusted friend. Consequently, I wound up with a more sensible view of myself—a struggling, striving child of a merciful Father who wants me to return to him, and loves me enough to present me with opportunities to do just that. What a great blessing it is to know He loves me enough—and knows me well enough—to have a plan just for me.
That still left me with the uncomfortable issue of that condemning voice in my head. It certainly wasn’t the voice of my Savior—He would never talk to me that way. It wasn’t the voice of my friends or family who love and care about me and want me to succeed. Clearly, the author of that voice was someone entirely different—and someone who has a vested interest in seeing me fail—and in seeing every one of us fail.
You, too, will find yourself in a situation in which you’ll hear that voice—such is the nature of our existence here. This voice will condemn you, criticize you, fault-find, and diminish your hope. It will erode your confidence, esteem, and tell you that you cannot succeed.
And here, you will have a choice. You can entertain that voice—or, you can recognize to whom that voice belongs—for it does not belong to any who love you. It does not belong to any who cherish you as the unique and precious individual you are in the eyes of your Savior, and in the eyes of those who love and care about you.
Upon that recognition, you can choose instead to listen to the voices who do love you. They will guide you, encourage you, and lead you to higher levels of spiritual and secular achievement. It is, after all, through listening to these gentler voices that we are brought closer to being the best we can be, made more genuine versions of ourselves, and move more closely to being the kind of sons and daughters our Father knows us to be.
I will spend more time with myself than anyone else on this earth. Let me be the kind of person I would like to have as a friend—let me encourage myself, be patient with myself, and be as gentle with myself as I would with the person I love the most. Today, I will pay special attention to any voice inside me that speaks lovingly. For after all, that is the one that will help me succeed.
To whose voice will you choose to listen today?