Leaping

nov postAs a young teenager, I believed that every decision I made was eligible for divine intervention. I was cultivating my persona as Intellectual Mormon Mystic Saint and my general obsession with how to be a holy girl was channeled in a question and answer format. The model for my coming of age story was equal parts Nephi, Joseph Smith and Joan of Arc. If God had talked to these fourteen year olds, why not me? I just needed a dilemma, then to pray intently, and surely I would receive an answer stunning enough to start a religion or save France. I imagined an adolescence filled with dramatic crossroads and I read the scriptures voraciously for clues on how to ensure that my requests would result in a vision, voice or literal Liahona-type direction.

My favorite scriptures on how to make decisions were addressed to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. We often quote section 9, verse 8 and 9 which describe thinking through an issue and then asking for spiritual confirmation, receiving either a burning sense of right or a stupor of thought. Many scriptures in the first ten sections also offer comfort and encourage patience in the process. These words appealed deeply to my mix of 1870’s via 1970’s logic. I had to do my homework, then wait for revelation or the “go back and try again” confusion. I had hoped to use these verses to ward off temptations like cigarettes or to tell the bad kids that hung around Mack in Saturday’s Warrior that I would not be joining them in their “Summer of Fair Weather,” but I suppose my owl-eyed intensity scared away most peer pressure. I had to settle for discerning more mundane decisions like whether or not to audition for Show Choir or what to give a talk on in church. But I approached each day to day inquiry with the same fervor.

As I marched into adulthood, this formula led me to more questions than answers. Why, even when I felt right about a decision, was it never easy afterwards? There always seemed to be loss and gain, good choices did not mean happy endings. The older I got, the more complicated it felt to look at all the angles of an issue. How did I know if I had studied enough and what if my studying had left me with a level of fear and anxiety that felt a lot like a stupor of thought? And what if I felt one way about a question and someone else prays about the exact same thing and gets another answer? I was once engaged to a boy who believed that he was told to marry me while I experienced a sledgehammer stupor that practically yelled “run away.” Was one of us wrong? Heartbroken, he moved to a new city and immediately met his future wife, a much better match for him in every way. Both of us felt strong emotions and experienced true spiritual promptings, but the sorting out led us to different conclusions.

I realized as a young woman that I had clung to these scriptures as a roadmap to try and control the events of my life. I was hoping to be “told” where to step, every step of the way, reducing the risk of making mistakes. Over the years I discovered so many other factors at play. I was developing my own voice through accumulated history, relationships, and a growing peacefulness in how the world unfolds miraculously without much effort on our part. I began to think about living with an openness to the spirit and with an openness to experience.

Recently, I had to make a big decision. It could be life changing. People will depend on me and it will require time and energy layered on a job and family. I had to consider more carefully than I have in a long time. I compared the decision process of my youth to how I approach it now. I still study, talk to my friends, read, go on long walks. I still have the expectation that in my quiet moments I will discern rightness. But I have added other strategies. Sometimes I let time pass to see what resolves or becomes clearer. Sometimes I let someone else decide and the confirmation is about trust and support in another’s revelatory understanding. Sometimes I just leap – motivated alternately by scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. In Prince Caspian, Lucy and her siblings are lost and wandering when she sees Aslan down in a valley that seems impossible to access. When no one believes her, Lucy appears to step off a cliff to discover a hidden path down the mountain. Likewise, Indiana walks into an abyss and finds a bridge only visible from the vantage point of this first step. In both cases they take a leap of faith when there was no rational reason to move forward. And in moving, they gain insight for the path ahead.

In the case of my current decision, I am taking a leap. I spent less time trying to work out every detail in my head, less time waiting for a whammy sense of rightness and simply let my desire to do good work and be a part of something I have experienced to deliver good works guide me. I respect the holy girl that was me. I wanted to be not just good, but spectacularly good, and that required determining the absolute right in every possible action before taking a step. I also respect the wiser woman that is me. We teach each other. The girl tells the woman to be still and pay attention to spiritual knowing. The woman tells the girl that with this feeling, and our experience, we can step stone to stone or even off a mountain or into an abyss, and learn as we go.

Pandora

Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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9 Responses

  1. JessR says:

    Thank you for this Pandora! As someone who has control freak tendencies, it is always good to be reminded of this. Trusting, especially trusting God, is a tricky thing to learn how to do. I think, too, that is only part of what we can learn by taking leaps like you describe. The other parts might be learning to trust ourselves and learning to trust those that love and care about us.
    Also girl you and girl me sound really similar! Again, thank you for the beautiful reminder.

  2. Jenny says:

    I love this! It describes my experience pretty well too. I especially love your conclusion at the end, about respecting your younger self as well as the woman you have become and letting both of them work together. Usually I try to forget about the young naive girl I once was. This gives me a different perspective to work with.

  3. Caroline says:

    What a great post, Pandora. Like Jenny, I particularly loved your conclusion about respecting both our younger selves and our older selves. I also love some of your phrasing.” I suppose my owl-eyed intensity scared away most peer pressure.” Ha!

    Best of luck to you in your new endeavor!

  4. Emily U says:

    “waiting for a whammy sense of rightness” Oh, so true! And so seldom does it happen!

    So many people I know who grew up in the Church learned that binary of a stupor or a burning bosom, and then have blamed themselves at some point or another for not feeling either. And most adults I know no longer think the spirit works just in ones and zeros. It makes me wonder why these stories are taught that way, is it developmental? Like this is how to introduce the concept of spiritual promptings? Or is it just simplistic and not useful? My kids are little, but I think it’s the latter and am trusting they can understand some nuance about this from the beginning.

    Love the art, too. It’s perfect.

  5. Pandora says:

    JessR – Thank you so much for highlighting trust – in self and others – this is where I find I have to muster most of my courage and humility.

    And I love that so many of us relate to our strident younger selves. Now and then I am wistful of my clarity back then, I could sort everything into buckets of this or that – Emily U, your metaphor of binary code is so perfect! – but it doesn’t last long. Thinking deeply in a world of paradox, mystery and “stuff just happens” feels a much better use of my free agency.

    Thank you so much for your comments!

  6. Spunky says:

    This is lovely, Pandora! I was just thinking today about when I met my husband. I had exhausted many hours praying about the “right” guy… and had no answers. So when I met my husband, I married him. Without praying. Because I didn’t want the answer to be “no.” For a long time, I felt like I had made the wrong choice in marrying him, because i didn’t pray about it first. I almost sabotaged my marriage with this thought! What a fool I was! So… with your leap… don’t doubt it. Not for a second. Own it. Because leaps are blessed, and in my case, my leap continues to be an infinite blessing.

    Carpe diemn and best wishes in your leap! (Is being a perma here the leap? Oh! I hope so! Either way, I am so grateful to have you here!!)

  7. MargaretOH says:

    I love this more than I can say, Pandora. Thank you for trusting your inner holy girl and wise woman. It’s a good example for me.

  8. Aimee says:

    This is the most beautiful articulation of an evolving understanding of personal revelation that I have ever read, Pandora. I so relate to this (as I do almost everything you write!). I spent too much of my early adulthood paralyzed as I waited for things that were “supposed to happen” made manifest to my mind. I love how you have found a way to create a still space for divine revelation to be received without being paralyzed by without it.

    Thank you for this and oh so much more, my dear friend.

  9. Heather says:

    This was good for me. I think sometimes I am dismissive and embarrassed by the girl I was and the intensity and passion that ruled my world. But I think my current self could benefit from some of the things my younger self held dear. Thank you. And I’m excited for your leap!!!

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