I sat next to one of my favorite people in Sacrament Meeting today. She is suffering from a degenerative joint condition that makes any kind of physical activity difficult, including sitting or standing for more than 30 minutes at a time. She takes her mind off the pain by doing crafts almost all the time. Last year at General Conference, she knitted bandages for leprosy patients. She’s pretty much a saint.
Today, I became mesmerized by her frail hands, clinking her crocheting needle against the ringlets she wears on her fingers to prevent them from hyperextending. She looped and hooked and [insert other crochet verbs here] as the white thread transformed into a little snowflake that would become Christmas gifts to her friends. She paused, turned the snowflake over in her hands and ran her fingers over a small portion, counting loops. She realized she’d made a mistake and pulled on the thread at the end, undoing about 10 minutes of work in 10 seconds. I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t break a tiny bit, but she relooped the thread and made up her lost ground quickly.
In my selfishness, I saw her snowflake as a near-perfect metaphor for my life. I don’t know how much of this applies to others, but it seems like all it takes is half an hour’s worth of misspent time on the computer or with unsavory characters to undo about half a year’s worth of good behavior and clean living. A moment of weakness destroying a lifetime of strength.
I remember reading a poem in a devotional given by Vaughn J. Featherstone. It goes as follows:
I saw them tearing a building down,
A group of men in a busy town,
With hefty blow and lusty yell,
They swung with zest, and a side wall fell.
Asked of the foreman,
“Are these men skilled?
The kind you would hire if you had to build?”
He looked at me, and laughed, “No, indeed!
Unskilled labor is all I need.
Why, they can wreck in a day or two,
What it has taken builders years to do.”
I asked myself, as I went my way,
Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder with rule and square,
Measuring and constructing with skill and care?
Or am I the wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the business of tearing down?
The sentiment of the poem is clear: wrecking takes much less time than building. In the context given, a stray word spoken with venom is all it takes to deflate someone’s unsteady self-esteem. However, the sentiment fits with what we’re talking about here. It takes the wrecker a fraction of the time to destroy what has taken the builder months or years to create.
This is a deeply depressing statistic. When grappling with addiction, depression, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other number of difficult situations, sinful or not, it seems that one petty relapse sends us back to square one. For me, this cycle has been most commonly felt while vying to overcome pornography addiction. It can get depressing, sometimes sending me into a sneaky hate spiral that ends in me wishing the world would just get compressed into a singularity from which nothing could escape.
However, while my mind was putting all of this together in Sacrament Meeting, it failed to observe what was perhaps the most poignant occurrence. The perceptive reader has probably already put it together, but the moment my friend undid all of her delicate work, she immediately started the process of rebuilding. It took effort, and certainly more time than it would have if she’d never made the mistake in the first place, but by the end of the meeting, she had a beautiful start to what will surely make a great gift for one of her lucky friends.
My old pal Darth Vader put it to me well one day. I was mad at myself and mad at the world for screwing up. I made a mistake for what felt like must be the last time, because the Lord would no longer suffer me to dwell on this planet where such mistakes are all too common for me. I was too ashamed to pray or repent, too ashamed to read scriptures, attend campus devotional, to even do my homework for the church college I attend. His perceptive response: the sooner we begin to rebuild, the sooner the Spirit of God can reenter our lives. He said that in his times of weakness, the thing that helped most was to do something uplifting immediately after sinning. He would hit his knees or open his scriptures, even though his mind was still fraught with sin, and would try his hardest as early as he could to invite the Spirit. It would take time, but eventually, and because he tried to nip the problem as early as possible, he would feel good about himself again.
It seems like we have two choices, no matter what we’ve done before. We can either build (or rebuild), or we can continue to break. The choice is really up to us.