Saturday, May 1, 2010

Charity Seeketh Not Her Own

This month's New Year's Resolution is to "seek less my own" - taken from the same verse as last month's resolution, I Corinthians 13:5. (The entire list of monthly resolutions is detailed at my New Year's Resolution post for this year.) In the previous months this year, I have focused on suffering longer in kindness, envying less, being less vaunting and less puffed up, and behaving less unseemly. Each of those aspects of charity has been interesting to parse and strive to understand better, but this month's aspect (seeking less my own) has been fascinating for a totally different reason than the others. Initially, I want to share why it has been so different - and pay tribute to an amazing man, my father, and an amazing woman, my wife.

Almost three months ago, my father had a stroke. I wrote about it in a special post - linked here. In that post, I excerpted from a post I wrote back in November of 2007 about when my niece died unexpectedly - and how my father notified us of that event. I want to link those posts here in order to give anyone who might read this an understanding of how I learned what I believe to be the fundamental core of "seeking not one's own" - and use it as a launching pad for why my contemplation of this month's resolution has been so unique and special for me. Please read those posts if you have not done so previously.

I hope this post is not too personal, but it will be much more so than most of my posts here. I share the following with my wife's permission.

I met my wife almost 28 years ago, on Monday, June 14th, 1982. We were attending a summer youth conference at BYU called Honors Academy. She walked into the room where I was talking with someone else, and my immediate thought was, "Wow! She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!" I knew within a week that we were going to be married someday, and I spent the next four and a half years (including the time I spent on a mission in Japan) working toward that day. When we met, I was 16 and she was 15.

My sweetheart kept a journal like few the world has ever seen. Voluminous doesn't even begin to describe those tomes. There were days when the entry was 5-6 pages long, and they were full of not just details but also feelings and hopes and dreams and frustrations and worries and self-doubt. There was no filter to her writing; everything was laid open in those pages. I have spent the last two days sick at home, and I have spent much of it re-reading her journals.

Just as at other times during the past two-and-a-half years, as I have focused on the attributes of godliness and tried to be a little better at something each month, I have been struck the last two days by how appropriate it has been - how non-coincidental it appears to have been - that I have been immersed in re-discovering how much I understood and practiced the concept of "seeking not my own" while I was dating my future wife. I also have been struck DEEPLY by how much I have let go of that over the years and how much I want to grasp it again.

You see, I loved her deeply as we were dating - and while that only has deepened over the last 28 years, it struck me hard that I have not sought as actively as at that time her happiness above my own. I have made sacrifices at various times to accommodate what was best for the family and let go of what might have been best for me individually, but I have not focused my energies as much on "seeking HER own" quite to the extent that I did back then. I understand that my focus necessarily must be divided now that I am working full-time and caring for six children, as well - and I know I am a good husband, but reading her journals from when I so desperately wanted her to know how special she was amid her self-doubts and the emotional turmoil of her teenage years has made me realize that I grew SO much because of that focus.

I lost myself, to a large degree, during those years. I lived my own life, and I did things on my own of which I am proud. I sang in the Trouveres (our high school a'capella group) and won a few music contests; I was the Drum Major of our award-winning marching band; I was a State Sterling Scholar General Scholarship competitor; I was accepted to Harvard College; I had a wonderful life by most objective standards. However, I would have given up all of that if it was the only way to help my girlfriend be happy and recognize her beauty and potential. In a very real way, I lived for her - and, in so doing, I found amazing joy in losing myself. I was "seeking not (my) own" - and, as a whole, it was the happiest, most glorious time of my life.

How does that translate into my life now - especially, as I said, now that I have competing aspects of my life that pull my focus away from just the love of my life?

As I began to consider this month's resolution, what struck me HARD is that I am at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I have struggled recently as I have sought to strike a balance between some things I really want badly as an individual and some things that I have felt drawn to as a husband, father, church member and friend. It has been difficult for me to let go of some of my dreams once more and realize that, perhaps once again, I need to lose myself as an individual and do some things strictly because there are things that I can do for others - that only can be accomplished if I choose to "seek not my own".

There is more to this resolution than simply seeking not my own accomplishments and dreams in isolation (and I will address that in future posts this month), but I wanted to begin this resolution by thanking my wife for the chance to read her journals once again from the time when I truly was the happiest I have ever been - and for what it has made me consider about what I need to do at this time in my life.

I don't know if this will make sense or resonate with anyone who reads it, and I will be back to the more analytical side of these resolutions posts next week, but I simply want to start this month's focus with a public statement that helping others be happy and secure, even at the expense of things that could be pursued on a personal level, is perhaps the purest form of "seeking not one's own" - and focusing on re-discovering how that (and more) applies to the here and now for me is something that I need to do.


Matthew said...

This is one of the the more difficult aspects of charity to live, I think. The other things are more or less internal - reactions, thoughts, feelings. Actively giving up your own time, goods, and interests for someone else, however, can be tough, especially when whatever you are sacrificing is limited.

For me, it is hard to not feel a little resentful sometimes when some of the very limited free time I have available is used up on things I don't want, but which other people in my life need. Something I am working on, for sure.

Thanks for sharing this, Papa D.

Michelle said...


Try if you can to watch the rebroadcast of Elder Oaks' talk at Women's Conference. I think you will appreciate it a lot.

Mama D said...

This post really resonates with me!! (*grin*)

Matthew, thanks for your insightful comment. Resentment is an easy reaction to have, and one I continually work on, as well.

FWIW, Ray, while the intensity of your charitable "service" to one person may have lessened and spread to more people over the years, you have learned some incredible lessons from your dad (and your mom) - among them specifically how to "seek not your own" and to balance all of your competing responsibilities.

Ray, sharing this incredible roller coaster ride of life is an amazing blessing. I love you forever and always!

Anonymous said...

Thirty years today.I think we have both largely sacrificed our own ambitions,other than the spiritual.I'm not sure that has been an entirely positive thing,it concerns me that we are not in a better financial position at this point in our family life-we have nothing other than our own accommodation in terms of realisable assets as we grow older,and nothing with which to help our children in their education.OTOH,we have no ethical regrets,and since we have had some major health problems,it's a comfort to know that our motives have been,hopefully, good.

Would we do the same again?I'm not sure.I'm hoping our kids will have a healthier sense of realism than we have had.

A lot of our time and energy was wasted on individual leaders pet projects of the time,we knew it was crazy but didn't want to be less than supportive.I think very little is more important than time with your kids,and our family life paid a high price for ultimately unimportant stuff.DH was so conflicted,and has had so little pleasure in life that it has ,to some extent,discouraged our children to see their lives purely in terms of duty.

So,I guess i vote for balance.It's not a bad thing to fulfill your aspirations to be good in your field,for either partner.Maybe,that is service.

And by the way,I hope you won't mind if,for the sake of positive balance you understand,I remind us all that one of the greatest services we can do for each other in our marriages,is offer a little sexual healing.It's OK to enjoy.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I think you offer a great perspective - and it led me to wish I had added a disclaimer:

What I described with both my father and myself was good primarily, if not only, because my mother and my girlfriend (now wife) are not "users" or "abusers". My "giving" was not merely selfless, it was efficacious - and it's important that it was effective - that it actually did real good.

I also agree that balance is the key - and what I'm saying is that I lost some of the former balance I had by letting go a bit of the service I had been doing.

Finally, I just want to say that I agree completely with the following part of your comment:

"It's OK to enjoy."

However, I would phrase it slightly differently. I would say:

IT'S OK TO ENJOY!!!!! :-)