I was 22 (the internationally recognized age of readiness to assume the role of fatherhood) when I had my first son, George (important note: I made that readiness thing up…it’s a miracle he has survived to be 8). When he was 2 years old, we were driving to Lindsay’s parents house on a Sunday afternoon and listening to the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice. If you are familiar with this soundtrack at all, you know that it has a lot of really beautiful songs featuring the piano. During one particular song (“Liz On Top of the World” for those of you who are actually familiar) the piano starts out quiet and simple and slowly swells into a beautiful/dramatic melody accompanied by various string instruments. At this moment, I looked in the rear view mirror at George and saw that he had tears streaming down his chubby little cheeks. Unsure about what had upset him, I asked out loud, “what’s wrong George?” He smiled, and while wiping the tears from his cheeks he said, “Happy song!”
Yeah. Our 2 year old had just been moved to tears by an instrumental song. Lindsay and I were 90% cute-ed out and 10% weirded out.
A couple years later, a cello teacher acquainted with my wife’s family was so thrilled about his excitement for music and his desire to play the cello that she started teaching him and he has been taking cello lessons since then.
George is such a fun kid in so many ways, and I don’t know what I did to have been blessed with such a naturally wonderful and talented child. If there was one thing I would change about him it would be his tendency toward perfectionism (this change being made for his sake more than mine, of course). This perfectionism has reared its head in various ways throughout his life, and playing the cello is one of these ways. However, at a recent lesson, George had somewhat of a break-through.
He was getting frustrated with himself for messing up several times while playing his newest song. This is pretty typical when he is presented with a new song, and we have had to have discussions with him about the importance of being patient with himself and remind him that he felt this way about the last song, “and look how awesome you play that song now!” After several attempts and obvious frustration, the teacher stopped.
“George, I want you to forget all about getting the notes right. I want you to forget about making sure that your doing the right fingers and the right bowing. All I want you to think about making beautiful music, and how much you love music.”
He played through the whole song with no problem, and played through all of his other songs with more beautiful tone than he ever had before. He teared-up (as he often does when he feels the spirit) and suddenly that 2 year old little chubby-faced music lover shone through!
His experience was a perfect example of something that I have been thinking a lot about lately, something that I feel has made all of the difference for me.
Life is so much more joyful when we are motivated by working for something we love, rather than by working against something we hate.
George was dedicated to practicing that song, working really hard to get it right. However, a closer look at his motivation indicated that he was focused on his great dislike for imperfection, rather than being motivated by his profound love of beautiful music. When his motivation changed, it became easy and joyful.
Living the gospel opens doors to incomprehensible blessings…but sometimes…it’s just the worst. Right?! It can get really difficult to maintain the faith required to sacrifice all the things that we are asked to sacrifice. Throughout the years of our life on Earth, our motivation to go to church, read our scriptures, say our prayers, pay our tithing, stay morally clean, etc. can wax and wane a lot. Doing what is right can get extremely taxing.
I have had several conversations with members of the North Star community with people who have made the choice to devote their lives to living the gospel (“Awesome! Me too!”). When we get to talking about reasons for this choice, often times people will say things about how they “can’t imagine anyone could really be happy in a gay lifestyle.” They might talk about how the gay community is full of immoral and unhappy people, and there is no commitment or real love to be found there. They find much of their motivation to stay active in the gospel from focusing on how awful or scary the alternative would be.
It isn’t my purpose in this discussion to comment on whether or not those beliefs about the gay community are true, but rather to suggest that regardless of whether or not they are true, it is focusing on something you want to avoid, rather than on what it is we love.
It has been my experience that when we are motivated by anxiety, fear, or hate, these efforts are often short-lived and insecure. We have a lot of passion heading into it, but slowly things become tiring and the negativity or criticism becomes difficult to carry. We start wondering if the things we are working so hard against are really all that bad, and often we end up giving up the fight. Fighting is exciting…but fighting is hard.
In contrast, when we are motivated by love, hope, and gratitude, it is easier to see that the difficulties we experience along the way might serve a purpose. We open our hearts to strength from God because he is the reason we do what we do. We are easier to forgive ourselves and see the good in others and this viewpoint strengthens our resolve to continue our chosen path.
I have a long way to go as I try to apply this concept. I’ll admit it, I only workout ’cause I hate being fat, I sometimes give my kids candy ’cause I hate hearing them whine, I only ever drive the speed limit if I’m scared that a cop might be close…I’m not perfect.
However, my life became a whole lot easier when I supplied my motivation to live the gospel, not from fear that God would punish me if I didn’t, but from my love for him and subsequent desire to do as he asks.