There it was again, the familiar haunting voice in my mind: “You’re not doing enough. You’ve got to do more . . . more . . . more!” Those words summarize the paradigm I’ve lived with most of my life. A few months ago my doctor referred me to a physical therapist because of headaches and back pain. In response to my stated goals for treatment, the therapist asked me, “Why do you think that being stronger and having less pain and having more functional hours—so you are able to do more—would solve most of your problems?”
“Who wouldn’t want less pain and more functional hours?” I retorted.
But his question was thought-provoking to the max. I realized that my treatment goals were like saying, “if only I had 28 hours a day instead of 24, then maybe I could get everything done I need to . . . and then I’d be happy!”
Did I really think my happiness (or level of righteousness) depended on getting a certain amount done? Is my well-being dependent on my physical ability to stack up just one more accomplishment? Is quantity what life is all about—how much I can get done? Quantity is all about externals, but what matters even more is what is happening inside.
Why do I keep focusing on being able to “do” more? The progress I truly seek is internal: I want a quiet heart, I want to come from a place of charity instead of judgment, I want to learn to give no credence to natural man thoughts that cause stress. I want to really hear the Spirit and follow it . . . and I want to rest.
How I agree with Psalm 55:6: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” But I want the right kind of rest—the rest of the Lord.
The false belief that I can’t rest because my worth depends on constantly DO-ING keeps me from experiencing the rest of the Lord. I know that God is not a demanding taskmaster and that He doesn’t judge us on the sheer quantity of good acts we can perform. Yet old core beliefs die hard!
Whenever I focus on “doing” instead of “being” I’m still buying into the idea that my worth depends on how much I can accomplish! And yet that paradigm has never worked for me! I’ve never felt more “worthy” or of greater value because of an accomplishment. In fact, I’m more likely to feel uncomfortable because I’m really not “that good.” Sometimes I worry that people might conclude from the accomplishment that I’m better than I am. And there is always the lurking temptation of pride:
Sometimes I want to do more to look better. Is that why I always want to be the one serving instead of being served? Do I still have the need to show how strong and good I am? Do I still have something to prove because deep down I’m not sure of my worth? When I’m scurrying around “doing” too much, when I’m compulsive, I’m likely to ignore the still small voice that tells me that worth is not something you earn. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). The worth of our souls is great because we are children of God. Period.
In addition, am I forgetting that we all must take turns serving and being served? Sometimes I need to remember that no one would have the blessings of serving if another person didn’t need service and show their willingness to receive it.
Perspectives from Those Whose “Do-ing Is Severely Limited
One of my recent articles for Meridian was based on Psalm 23. I called it “When You are ’Made’ to Lie Down in Green Pastures.” I have received permission to share a couple of replies to that article that shine light on the subject at hand.
A Meridian reader named Roberta responded :
“I've been made to lie down now for close to 7 years with an illness [that has left me] unable to function as I used to. People think I am inactive in church. Perhaps I am if you consider that before, I never missed a Sunday or the opportunity to bear my testimony, and to do every calling that was offered (sometimes many at once), and attend the temple at every opportunity. Then one day, it stopped. I had to quit my manager’s job, stop attending church and stop helping my family and extended family. I could not drive, or think or do, but not once did the Lord leave me, and I have hung on to Him for dear life.
“I'm being slowly reprogrammed to allow others to serve me, to give them the opportunity to be a leader, to know how that feels. I say slowly because it is hard to give up being the one who thought she could do it all. I am learning to follow, and see that there are a million ways to do things, and a million people to do them, not just one. Learning to say ’Thy will be done’ and mean it is sometimes very hard. Allowing people to love me for me, rather than buying their love with what I can do for them is humbling to say the least.
“I am learning to ’be still’ and see that my cup does ’runneth over’ without me thinking it was me that was filling it. It may take a while longer to learn that I am of worth just because ’I am.’ I do not like the humble pie of my illness at all. I don’t like the limitations and not being about to ’do.’
“My cat Yoda has taught me more about being happy doing less than anything else. He spends most of the time snoozing, yet he manages to light up my life by following me around the house and snoring in whatever room I am in. He just does what kitties do and I love
Roberta concludes, “We need to wake up and see that the gospel is not a curriculum, nor a weekly commitment, a meeting, a calling or for just a special few. It should not be used as a tool for guilt, control or manipulation. The gospel to me is the constant personal relationship with God (Heavenly Parents, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, etc.) to make life easier here, and to help me get to the place I’m headed next.”
Debbie Avila, who has muscular dystrophy and has been bedfast on a respirator for decades, responded to the same 23rd Psalm article (linked above):
“I love the fact that we are as lambs, that we can’t drink from rushing waters but need to be fed, nurtured, watched over by the Savior—whether by Him personally or another on His errand. Whether our needs are physical or spiritual, we aren’t meant to do it alone. Even Jesus needed help (in Gethsemane) and was sent an angel! We are asked to pattern our lives after His. We need to be conscious of anything that creates [instead of still waters] rapids or a whirlwind or hurry-up attitude within or outside of our lives which will, in time, drown us.