Saturday, August 6, 2011

To Set My Heart Less Upon the Vain Things of the World: Looking Back on My Life and Former Expectations

This month, my New Year's Resolution is "to set my heart less upon the vain things of the world" - taken from Alma 5:53, which says:

And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?  

This will be a bit more reflective post than most, in the sense that I am going to be writing quite openly about my past and personal inclinations.  I hope and pray I will be able to do so in a way that will help someone who reads this post.  

I have to admit up front that this resolution is one area where I have been both naturally humble but also been forced to be humble.  I was raised poor, due to my father's amazing dedication to my mother and willingness to forsake honor and relative wealth to care for her in her need.  (See this post for an explanation of that sacrifice.)  However, that poverty never was presented to us as a burden in any way.  I wished I could have more fairly often (especially when I was dating Mama - *grin*), but I never was covetous to any significant degree.  My struggle with the concept was much more a result of my ambitions upon leaving for college - and my subsequent desires to "live up to my potential" when it came to earning a living.

I never struggled in school.  In fact, academic learning came easily to me from the time of my earliest memories.  Understanding math, especially, was a natural gift.  This led me ultimately to Harvard (my admission being influenced greatly, I know, by the fact that I was from a tiny Utah town of which none of the Admissions Officers had heard), where I became enthralled for a few years by the opportunities that lay ahead of me.  I dreamed for a while about international diplomatic work - probably in Japan, where I served my mission, or China, which always has fascinated me.  Eventually, however, I realized I really did want to be a high school teacher, so I walked away from those secondary dreams and entered my subsequent life of relative poverty.

After I left the classroom, I ended up in Educational Publishing Sales and Marketing - and I made a very good living in that arena for nearly a decade.  I had one year, in particular, that was extraordinary - but, in the end, due to an unwise investment, I lost what I had earned, changed careers and now, once again, am doing work I love immensely that does not pay very well.  The "difficulty" for me now is that I have been more than comfortable previously, and it is hard to let go of the desire to be there again.

In general, I am incredibly happy with my life, regardless of my financial circumstances - especially since I believe deeply that I am and have been exactly where I am supposed to have been and be now.  I can look back on my life thus far and see that it was FAR more important for my family to be where we have been than for me to have made a lot of money.  In other words, our location has been more important than my actual job and career path.  I have gotten jobs that took us to where we needed to be - and, in having that happen, I am learning to let go more fully of the dreams I fostered those first four years in college.  It helps tremendously that I now do work that I enjoy greatly. 

This year has deepened my understanding of the trajectory I just described - and I have come to accept more fully the idea expressed in the LDS hymn, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go":

It may not be on the mountain height or over the stormy sea.  It may not be at the battle's front the Lord will have need of me.  But if, by a still, small voice he calls to paths that I do not know, I'll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine: I'll go where you want me to go.  

I was talking with Mama this week about exactly this understanding - that I have no idea where life will lead me from this moment forward, but that I am willing to accept wherever that ends up being.

I will deal more specifically with the meaning of the focus of my resolution in the posts that follow each week, but I wanted to start with this post - and an encouragement for everyone to strive to be able to accept whatever life the Lord desires of us - even if it is a life we did not expect and would not have chosen on our own.


Matthew said...

This is so true, Ray. My life's journey has been filled with unexpected directions career-wise, health-wise, and has been filled with a large helping of cosmic irony. :) Nevertheless, I have always been exactly where I needed to be, and the way things have worked out has been so much better than the way I had planned it.

I think it is interesting, the concept of 'vain things of the world' - certainly directly relevant to me at the current moment, funnily enough. I think that it is not necessarily just monetary things, but can include anything, really, which diverts our focus from where it ought to be - games, education, work, callings, sports, whatever.

I think it is important to note that vain (being fruitless, or self-absorbed, whichever way you want to take it) things can differ for each of us and can change over time, as well. To everything a season, and all that.

Also, funny to note that today's daily bible verse delivered to my inbox was Matthew 6:19-21. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Same idea, different words.

Anyway, a pleasure to read your thoughts, as always!

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful that you can see the good in your circumstances and the Lord's purposes in your experience.Regretfully though,I think acknowledging the call to suffer is another course that our lives can take.Perhaps this is what God was calling upon Job to acknowledge.I see many around me who are called to this course,and whilst I can see the refining and chastening in that experience,I grieve for them.The big picture sometimes escapes me,but I know conceptually it's there.