A couple years ago, when I served as the secretary of our stake’s Young Women organization, I would travel to the different wards (aka, congregations) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in our area and give a lesson to the young women there. Since we never had to give more than one lesson in the same ward, all of us in the presidency would basically just prepare one lesson blueprint and present more or less the same idea in all the wards, tweaking as needs or interests or time dictated.
A key component of the lesson I gave was basically this:
One of the key ways the adversary works to destroy us spiritually is to work through extremes.
I started by talking about the Paradox of Man (based on this talk), which basically just states that though man is nothing compared to the grandeur and power of God, man nevertheless means everything to God and has great importance in His plan. I talked about how living on either side of this extreme can result in devastating spiritual consequences, either by making us focus entirely on how we are nothing compared to God (making us feel worthless), or by making us think that we are more important than we are, which leads to pride (which also alienates us from God).
I also brought up a few other extremes, such as caring about our appearance too much to the extent of developing eating disorders or unhealthy obsessions with eating or exercise or fault-finding with our so-called “imperfections,” or the other extreme, which is not caring at all about ourselves, to where we destroy our bodies and self-esteem through unhealthy behaviors, lack of exercise and proper nutrition, and so forth.
A few years ago, I got pretty into the idea of minimalism and slow living and just learning to be content with what I had instead of relentlessly pursuing the idea of MORE—more busyness, more stuff, more money, more likes on my blog—you get the idea.
I completed a year-long project where I got rid of probably almost half of my stuff, cut down my outer time commitments to where I could say yes to the things that were higher on my priority list, and I went on a spending freeze for a month, which basically reset my financial priorities and set me on the path to being not only super frugal, but also being a much more mindful consumer.
Overall, I consider these changes to be a Great Thing—I no longer feel the need to go out and buy a bunch of new clothes every other month, I learned to embrace the benefits to living on a small income, and I feel like although I’m not perfect at spending my time wisely every second, I am at least not so busy all the time that I feel constantly stressed (like I was before).
But lately, I’d been feeling beyond restless—almost like I could just jump out of my own skin, I felt so antsy. At first, I thought it was due to the increased anxiety I’ve been battling for the past several months. But, as I’m not being plagued nearly so often as before with stress-inducing thoughts and panic thanks to a few tweaks to my daily practices, I started looking elsewhere for the cause of why I was feeling this way.
And then it hit me—
In my quest to ultimately be completely content exactly as I was, I had become pretty darn complacent.
Sure, I was still making to-do lists every week, saving money for the future, and continuing the healthy exercise habits I’ve had in place for months now.
But I was feeling restless because I was feeling no fire—no big goals to work toward, no big changes I was trying to make in myself.
While it is a beautiful thing to feel content in our own skin and with who we are, ultimately, we should never (at least in this lifetime) feel so content with ourselves that we stop pushing ourselves to progress. After all, we learn from scriptures that this life is the time to prepare to meet God—this is the time we’ve been given to be endlessly striving to “be. . . perfect, even as [our] Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
We know that this perfection cannot happen in this lifetime, and that the expectation of such perfection now can be a trap (one of Satan’s extremes, if you will) that can bring us down, and bring us down quickly.
But the opposite extreme is also true, as is found in this chilling scripture:
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:21)
And I realized that that’s exactly what I had done, in a lot of ways—I had convinced myself to be so content with how things currently stood that I was no longer really pushing myself to be a better version of myself—I was simply keeping up on some basic habits (and perhaps letting others slide), and calling it good.
Balance is a tricky thing to find, and since I’ve spent much of my life chasing the other extreme of perfection, this side of contentment/complacency is new to me.
But, since I realized what the problem was, I started sloooowly working myself back towards a happier medium on the complacency/perfection spectrum, by rededicating myself to better scripture study and more regular (and meaningful) prayers.
Then, since I have those down a little better than before, I’ve been extending it out to other areas—
After my last pregnancy (which ended in miscarriage), I’m still carrying around a few extra pounds that I haven’t bothered with, and I had all but given up on running.
So a couple weeks ago, I started going on just one run a week (in addition to my usual exercise classes at the gym), and now starting today, I’m going to cut out sugar for three days this week to get myself back on track after letting myself binge on alllllll the Easter candy.
Financially, we’ve been living frugally for quite a long time now, a great habit that I don’t repent of in the slightest. However, I haven’t felt the fire of a big goal lighting our efforts at being frugal, either, so we’ve decided to finally start looking into buying a house (although we still don’t know how soon that will happen, exactly, but we’re hoping it’s over the next year).
Intellectually, I’ve been letting myself read whatever I want, without trying to push myself to read off of recommended reading lists at all (like I used to), which has resulted in reigniting my passion for reading a lot again…but that has also resulted in me reading a lot of books I could have definitely done without. So I’m going to start a book soon that’s off of one of my award-winning lists, since those books generally tend to enrich my mind more than a lot of the fluff I’ve read lately.
I know to anyone else, my revelation about contentment sometimes being a driver towards complacency might not seem like such a big deal, but it seriously explains SO MUCH of what I’ve been feeling over the past month or two. It explains why I’ve lost motivation to work on my photography or set more “Ideal Mom” goals or do anything at night other than watch t.v. and play Spider Solitaire. It explains why I’ve been feeling so restless in my own skin, and it also points to how I can fix that.
And, that, in and of itself, feels like a big relief.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go see if there are any new house listings around…