Offering a helping hand to your spouse immediately after they made an insensitive remark Vacuuming the playroom for the 44th time that day, after keeping yourself forgiving and gentle with the child who dirtied it.
Sending off your date night money- even though it was to be a cheap date- to a charity in need of resources for a natural disaster
Showing up at church after a week of asking difficult questions about that church and feeling like you’ve gained no answers
Smiling at the grumpy store clerk, who does not return the kindness
Driving the speed limit
Sending a heartfelt email of appreciation and receiving no response
Not taking that drink when you really, really want to
Praying for a loved one who doesn’t get better
Going through a whole day, completing the same routine as you have dozens of days before, without complaint, being kind to even the few people you encounter
Despite crippling anxiety and fear over the outside world, you get out of bed, get dressed, and step into it
What do these things have in common?
They are not wasted.
Unlike the Pinterest meme, I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.”
I believe in every individual’s God-given freedom to think and act however they choose (within or without the law), which can lead to some truly terrible and unfair events.
I guess this could leave room for me to believe that some things are just pointless and some efforts wasted.
But I don’t.
I once heard a teenager speak in church about patience. He said something like,
“When I was a kid I came home one day and my mom had ordered pizza. This didn’t happen a lot. I wanted a second piece of pizza, but we had a neighbor there and my mom gave the pizza to him. I felt really angry inside but I remember thinking I was being so patient because I didn’t tell anyone how angry I was. It wasn’t until I was older when I realized, if Jesus had been in that situation, not only would he not have acted angry, he wouldn’t have actually BEEN angry at all.”
My job in life isn’t to do things to be appreciated for them, or to get a lot of “likes”, or to avoid punishment, or to be ultra productive.
It is to gain a heart like Christ’s.
When I was 25 I attended a fireside given by Elder David A. Bednar where he described a chalkboard, split down the middle, with tallies for “good deeds” and “bad deeds” on either side.
He said we can sometimes think of heaven as this moment where you stand there with God, and you hope that your good deeds outweigh your bad ones. And if they do, you get in.
In reality what will happen is that Christ will see you- every single fiber of you. He will see your intentions, your weaknesses, your outright rebellion, your efforts, your joys; He will see where your treasure is.
There will be no lists, no checkmarks next to Christlike attributes you’ve obtained by a number of deeds.
No, He will simply see your heart, and find whether it is like His.
There will be no mistakes; there will be a lot of mercy. He will know you, and you will know Him, because you will be like Him.
God allows everything to work together for our good, if we love Him. We can benefit from everything that happens, even if everything doesn't happen for a reason.
Once I was at the Denver airport bathroom with a toddler in a stroller and a big pregnant belly. I was waiting for the handicapped stall to come available so I could access the changing table, when the person inside of it ran out quickly and the stall door slammed behind her, locking itself before I could grab it.
Before I had a second to think, a nearby woman saw the concern register on my face, and in one fluid motion said, “No, you aren’t going down there,” then dropped to her stomach, slid under the door, and unlocked it for me.
In an airport. In a bathroom. On the floor.
I can’t think about this without tearing up, because it was so much, with so little deliberation on her part. She didn’t carefully consider how I was traveling alone, how long those airplane and airport hours are with small kids, how much weepy thanks she would get from a hormonal me, and then decide she should spend her “do one good deed for a stranger today” points on me.
She saw, she acted, no thought for herself.
Even if I had been non-appreciative or acted entitled to her help, her effort was not wasted.
Not only did God see it, but it worked on something inside of her and chipped away at some pesky weakness she battles.
These things matter. That gentle chisel that lives inside of me is always looking for a little something harsh to soften. To engage it all I have to do is act. Sometime invisibly- inside my own mind, deciding to assume the best of an angry person. Deciding to quiet the voice that says I should argue that point and instead choose to quietly contemplate it.
Sometimes obviously- choosing to hold the door open for someone who is flying past me, frustrated grumblings under their breath.
Being the first to apologize, or showing up to help that new co-worker get their bearings when it eats away at your own productivity.
Taking that pay cut to have more time to serve at home and in your neighborhood.
Choosing to treat your spouse to everything you know makes them happy, even when they don’t seem to be putting in their all.
Only listening to someone with another political view, trying to understand.
The other parties in these examples may never notice what you’re doing. You may never get warm-fuzzies doing them, or climb the ladder, or make them love you.
But. Your heart will become like Jesus Christ’s. And Christ’s heart is fulfilled, joyous, and perfectly at peace in every circumstance.
My biggest battles are always within myself. At times raising kids, I feel like I've fought an actual war at the end of the day, and every aspect of it was inside my own head and body.
Keeping myself gentle, engaged, a good example... avoiding the comparisons that pop into my mind every 15 minutes of what some other woman in some other situation is doing, better than me.
That other woman is usually some idealized version of myself I'm hoping to attain, and it often feels futile when the Groundhog Day nature of life comes into play.
Then there are interactions with others: family, spouse, strangers, coworkers.
On top of these, interactions with life itself: loss, illness, discrimination, war.
I have this image of a small, golf-ball sized cloud you can hold in your hand. It's similar to the ball of dirt that gathers around Pig Pen from Peanuts. It represents a negative remark from another person: a fight picking, a disagreement, unnecessary drama.
I imagine that the person starting the conflict hands me this dusty ball, or in the case of life, it just smacks me in the face.
If I choose to engage, I toss it back, and the ball grows larger as they catch it. When they keep the fight going, they toss it back, bigger and bigger until it has completely blocked our view of each other.
Alternately, the person could hand me this ball of dirt, I could put my hands to my side, and not engage. They would be forced to press the ball into my heart.
I would have to absorb it: no attacking back, no dismissing, no defending.
As it gets pressed into my heart, it doesn't make a dark spot in my heart. It doesn't make me negative. It could, but if I use my inner chisel right, it clears out a section of my heart instead.
So now, in my heart, I have all these caverns, kind of like those shoe cubbies at play places. Many tiny boxes that are slowly getting cleared out through difficult experiences. Over and over, I absorb these hurts. I don't return them and therefore grow them...
I take them, and my heart becomes open rather than closed off from the enormous clouds I've helped grow.
In these now open spaces, I've made room for Christ to enter, to make my heart like His.
The pain in this process is never-ending. But it is never wasted.
Standing up for oneself is commendable, and may be necessary for survival at times. But most of the time, more times than I allow myself to believe, I could put my guards down.
I could take in the pain, surrender, and clear out those caverns to make room for More.
I could put the chisel to work, and I could grow into my new heart. This is how I ensure these battles, within and without myself, are never wasted.