A Letter to Myself

Dear Will:

You know that feeling you get when you are working too many hours and getting too little sleep? When you have too much to do and too little time to do it? When you do none of the things that matter particularly well? When you arrive at the end of the day—day after day—feeling as if you haven’t accomplished half of what you needed to or any of what you wanted to?

That’s how I feel.

I’m reminded of a backpacking trip I took several years ago over Piute Pass in the High Sierras. We were planning to stay for a week beside the Golden Trout Lakes, a breathtaking spot some 11,000 feet above sea level. Because of the length of our stay, we were all carrying 35-40 pounds of gear and supplies. The hike in would take most of the day.

It wasn’t so bad at first. Fortunately, the incline was not steep, so we never found ourselves working extra hard. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view or refill our water bottles, none of us in a great hurry to “arrive.” The trouble was that some in our party were not in especially good shape. Their stops became more frequent, and as the “sweeper” in our party I couldn’t go any faster than our slowest hiker. Consequently, the load on my back began to take its toll. By and by, I wanted nothing more than to drop my pack.

I remember the almost out-of-body experience I had when we finally arrived at the Golden Trout Lakes. When at last I could remove my heavy load, I felt like I might float away. I felt almost like an astronaut on the moon, so light was I after carrying that load for hour after hour. What a relief! What joy! What ecstasy!

I have often thought of how many lessons on the Atonement were contained within that hiking experience. Above all, I have thought about how Christ’s suffering for us is in very fact a promise to carry our burdens for us—as if he were offering to shoulder our pack, to give us the gift of relief. His life and death embodied his eternal invitation: “Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Ultimately, it was Jesus’ compassion—his willingness to suffer with us and for us—that best expressed His great love for us.

These lines from a favorite hymn also come to mind, offering good counsel to one such as I who is weighed down by life:

How gentle God’s commands! How kind his precepts are!
Come, cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.
Beneath his watchful eye, his Saints securely dwell;
That hand which bears all nature up shall guard his children well.
Why should this anxious load press down your weary mind?
Haste to your Heav’nly Father’s throne and sweet refreshment find.
His goodness stands approved, unchanged from day to day;
I’ll drop my burden at his feet and bear a song away.

Hmmm. That’s excellent advice for someone like me. Perhaps this time I should mail this letter to myself. . . .

PW

Another Blown Opportunity

Dear Will:

When I sat down at the dinner table tonight I announced: “After dinner I want to write a letter to Will.” Big mistake.

I had this notion that I could tell you about hiking over Piute Pass in the High Sierras, about the precarious climb over granite boulders and cascading waters that we later named Almost Falls, about rising in the middle of the night and standing transfixed, unable to stop staring at stars so numerous the moon need not have bothered coming to work. I knew I would be searching for a more articulate way to say “Wow!”

But my wife had other plans. Had to go to Home Depot, she said. Had to order new front doors. Had to, just had to do it tonight lest some dignitary show up in a couple of weeks and see our home the way it has appeared since we moved into it six years ago. Had to.

And so we did. Upon our return a couple of hours later, I tucked kids into bed and sat down to read scriptures with my son Luke. It’s a nightly ritual which we have maintained for around a year now. Generally I look forward to it. But tonight I was anxious. I had a letter to write.

While we were reading, Barnum, the psychodog, was jumping up and down against the door, his nightly signal that he would appreciate it if someone (me) would take him out for one last romp before putting him to bed. I was reminded that my daughter had not ever taken him for a walk today. So next thing I knew I was wandering the cul-de-sac while Barnum dashed about in search of rabbits. And mischief. And, as it turned out, an abandoned chunk of the neighbor’s garbage. Which he deposited in my garage.

It was about then that I remembered that my niece is arriving later this evening. To accommodate her, we had to turn the study into a “guest room.” Books were scattered everywhere and needed to be put away. The bed (a blow-up mattress—pretty classy, huh?) had to be set up. Had to pull out some towels and put the mints on the pillow (to maintain a high-end atmosphere to go with our new front doors).

It was about the time that I was wrestling around on the floor with the inflate-a-bed and a contour sheet that I remembered one of the passages Luke and I had read just a few minutes earlier:

Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

And right about then it occurred to me that the things that had filled my evening—small things, every one—were the kinds of things I should be doing. These little acts of unremarkable service should flow from me naturally, in part as a consequence of my basic Christianity. And of course, as the thought entered my mind, it also occurred to me that I done every bit of it (even reading the scriptures, I’m ashamed to say) with the wrong attitude. Which isn’t what Jesus had in mind at all.

Oops. Another blown opportunity to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose that doing the right things still counts for something, but it’s clear that I still have a long way to go. I really wanted to tell you about the High Sierras, but I figured that tonight this story was more important.

PW