Having celebrated a series of little successes as I work on living with the intent to be happy (see How We Choose to Be Happy by Foster and Hicks), I have actually been doing fairly well in the emotional arena as of late. Additionally, learning that anxiety can be a result of dehydration has made an incredible difference—as long as I drink plenty of water my anxiety levels are mostly minor and often almost non-existent. But a couple of weeks ago, I experienced some small setbacks over several days that, taken altogether, added up to more than the sum of their parts.
It started when my husband and I went to the viewing of a friend who was the absolute embodiment of dignity and elegance. As we spoke to her daughter, my husband made the observation that her mother was “spiritually elegant.” My first thought was “What a wonderful way to be remembered.” My second thought was that perhaps that quality was something I could strive to develop. My third thought was that I am probably too pragmatic to ever be considered elegant. And so my precarious sense of confidence and well-being started to lose its balance.
The next setback came as I was listening to a radio talk show. The hosts were discussing a study regarding how people experience their daily commute. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that people who didn’t get upset about traffic delays or uncourteous drivers were happier. No duh–did they really need a study to figure that out? They also found that those who took mass transportation were much happier with their commute if they talked to the people around them. Well, that isn’t me. I’m the one with her nose in a book or simply staring out of the window. I look forward to traveling by bus or plane because I know I will have an extended opportunity to read or just sit and think without feeling guilty because I’m not doing something more productive. I can’t fold my laundry, cook dinner, or clean my house while I’m on the bus, so I don’t worry about it. The radio discussion made me feel like I just didn’t measure up because I prefer to keep to myself when I’m surrounded by a bunch of strangers.
The final incident occurred while I was looking at an online newsletter I subscribe to and saw an article titled “Today I Learned that I’m Living the Gospel Wrong.” (See igobyari.com) As I read the article, I learned that the author felt that God wasn’t happy with her because she wasn’t bouncing-up-and-down excited about the Gospel. Well, according to that standard, I’m living the Gospel the wrong way, too. In general, I’m not a person who gets I-just-can’t-wait excited about very many things. I envy those who naturally use words like “fabulous” and “awesome” to describe their world, but it just isn’t me. I love the Gospel, but I would describe my emotions regarding it as awe and reverence rather than excitement. But because I’m not part of the isn’t-this-wonderful crowd, I again felt inadequate and, quite frankly, a little inferior.
So there I was—Strike three, you’re out! Bye-bye self-confidence and sense of well-being. Fortunately, at this point the Lord stepped in to save me from myself.
In preparation for Easter, I’ve been reading New Testament scripture passages that chronicle Christ’s life. One of the passages speaks of Mary and Martha who lived in Bethany with their brother Lazarus and hosted the Savior in their home on more than one occasion. Luke 10 recounts the following interaction between Martha and Jesus.
38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
I believe that the one needful thing that Christ referred to was the eternal imperative to feast on the word of God. Christ was lovingly teaching Martha that her concern about an earthly meal was interfering with what was truly important. However, I don’t believe that by pointing out that Mary had chosen that “good” part, that spiritual feast, he was implying that Martha had chosen a “bad” part. Far too often I hear good women criticize themselves because they identify more with Martha than with Mary, and thus feel guilty because they believe they haven’t chosen the “good” part.
As I read that passage of scripture, the Spirit helped me understand that while the needful, or essential, thing is to put God first, it’s not the only choice we must make. Just as there are diverse gifts of the Spirit, there are an unlimited number of other good parts from which we can choose. We do ourselves and others a great disservice by believing that there is only one good way to live the Gospel, only one good way to serve the Lord, only one good way to do good in the world. I realized that I had fallen into the trap of believing that there was only one “good” part, and it wasn’t the part that I had chosen.
Perhaps I won’t ever be spiritually elegant like my friend, but surely there is a place for a spiritual pragmatic like myself. Perhaps I won’t ever make a new friend while I’m riding the bus, but the world needs some of us to be thinkers. Perhaps I won’t ever be effusive about the glories of the Gospel, but though the expression of my Gospel witness might be more subdued, my testimony isn’t any less earnest or profound. The challenge is to find and embrace the good parts that fit oneself.
Maybe being a pragmatic, thinking, somewhat reserved disciple is a pretty good part to choose after all. I know for me, it feels right.