Perception is interesting. I know that my life has been more difficult than the lives of some. I also know that, without experiencing the lives of friends and acquaintances, I don’t really know how hard their lives have been. I can only compare from the outside, which makes it easy to believe that my life has been incredibly difficult.
We have a tradition in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, usually on the first Sunday of the month. (The exact timing can change if there are special meetings held, etc.) The tradition is called Fast and Testimony meeting. We begin, usually the day before, by fasting — going without food or drink for 24 hours. We try to use the discomfort and the meal times to focus ourselves on our Savior and also on the purpose for which we are fasting. During our worship service, we have a testimony meeting. During this meeting, there are no assigned speakers. Members of the congregation come forward and bear witness to the gospel as they feel moved upon by the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, I speak in these testimony meetings regularly, and sometimes I sit back and listen. Recently, I spoke. After church, I was trying to connect with my 14 year old. The topic was church, and I eventually asked him what he heard when I bore my testimony. His reply was devastating: he really didn’t listen to me when I bore my testimony in church, but when he did, it was all about my miserable life.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I have never really raised a teenager before. I’m trying to educate myself on normal behavior for his age, but it doesn’t always sink in. As I think back now, it’s pretty common for kids his age to hear about the first 5 words and then have the rest of the message turn into some unintelligible language he can’t decipher or follow.
I think what hurt the most, though, was that his perception of my perception of life was that it’s all miserable.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there are aspects of my life that have been more difficult than the average suburbanites that I know. I have known the fear of having someone deliberately out to ruin me and of not being able to adequately provide for those who are dependent on me. I have watched the influence of someone with psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies rips at the threads holding my family together. I have grieved over living children as if they had died, as they chose a path that shut me out.
Of course, if I’m going to be totally fair, I also have to admit that many of my difficulties were actually created by me. Blame whoever I want (or no one), I developed some unhealthy ways of reacting to life and have often taken things harder than necessary. My black-and-white thinking has caused me to panic when panic was totally unnecessary.
Where the Truth Lies
Life will always have tough places that bring us to our knees, wondering how close we actually are to our breaking point. I believe life was designed this way by a loving Heavenly Father. Life is a school, and sometimes the tests are pretty hard.
On the other hand, life is filled — everyday — with precious and beautiful moments. Sometimes, those moments are big (like winning a major game or celebrating a wedding or birth) and sometimes they are small (a hug from a perceptive friend at just the right moment).
I’ve heard life being compared to a steam locomotive ride. I prefer to think of it more as a mountain hike. On the trail, there are rough spots where all we can do is focus on the path and keep moving forward one step at a time. Our backpacks feel unbearably heavy, and we wonder why we even thought this would be a good idea! Then, the path evens out, we catch our breath, and we look around at some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. These are the beautiful moments that make the rest of the journey worth it — well, and the view from the top!
So, What About My Son?
While I have opinions about what damage my ex-husband might have caused to his perception of life, I really can’t be an accurate judge. I also have no control over what my son’s father says or does. I have to leave those things up to God and trust that He can work the same kind of miracles for my son that he worked for me.
On the other hand, I am very responsible for what my son sees in me. Does he see that I trust my Father in Heaven? Does he witness me turning to the scriptures when I need strength? Does he see my faith win out over my fears and doubts?
Does he see me enjoying the beauties that surround me in life? Does he see me noticing that those beauties are there? Does he see that I am basically happy in my life? If not, then I have a lot of work left to do.