Did This One with My Eyes Closed

 

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Dear Will:

I hope you will not think me especially loutish when I admit that sometimes I have a hard time staying awake at the ballet. And at the symphony. And pretty much in any meeting that involves sitting and listening passively. As long as I stay locked into the subject at hand, I’m fine. But should my mind wander, even briefly, I turn into Captain Nod, that sag-eyed, bobble-headed drooper at the back of the conference room (or at the front of the chapel). Years ago I started taking notes during church services simply to keep myself from fading. It works. Most of the time.

I don’t buy tickets in the orchestra section hoping to get in a good nap, mind you. It’s just that sometimes the body takes over no matter what efforts the mind might undertake to remain in control—especially if the room is dark and stuffy and the guy with the pointer is a little (how shall I put this?) soporific. In desperate moments I’ll occasionally stand and walk around during someone else’s presentation in order fend off an eye-fluttering face-plant, but sometimes even that doesn’t work: I once nodded off while standing in a dimly-lit conference room in Bordeaux when jetlag, PowerPoint, and a languid Frenchman teamed up to carry me off to Monde Somnolent in spite of my best efforts to remain alerte—which I believe is French for not keeling over mid-snore. (It could be worse: I have a friend who has been known to doze off during a one-on-one conversation . . . in the middle of his own sentence. We keep such friends around so that we can feel better about ourselves. It works. Most of the time.)

It takes only one snorer during Act II of Sleeping Beauty (a moment of irony lost on no one at the ballet) to know that you are not alone in your inability to stay awake on command. Even so, I find my greatest reassurance in scripture: No doubt you’ll recall that even Peter, James, and John—Jesus’s most trusted friends—could not keep their eyes open on what was the Most Important Night in the History of the World. As Jesus prayed the most sacred of prayers—to which they had been invited as especial witnesses—His senior apostles, in spite of themselves, drifted off to sleep. Disappointed though He must have been, Jesus showed that He understood well the limitations of the mortals around Him when He said: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

The compassion and love Jesus showed in that moment shows that that He gets me. He understands that sometimes my shortcomings are too much for even my very best intentions. The flesh is weak. When elsewhere He promises that his “grace is sufficient,” He means that He’s got my back, that He can make up for all of the lapses that really matter—and then some.

That’s why I take particular solace from this verse of scripture: “The Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). Flawless execution would be an unreasonable standard. But willingness and effort? That I can do. It might not get me through those adagios that seem always to show up in the second movement, yet it fills me with enough hope to get me through this life and into the next.

But just in case: If you could wake me for the resurrection, I would really appreciate it.

PW

 

Illustration: Pat Bagley

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Getting My Mornings Back

Dear Will:

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—which is a pretty good indication that Ben was annoying to most of his friends. I have Franklin on the brain these days because this week will be my last as an Early Morning Seminary teacher—for a while anyway.

Throughout the school year, I get up every morning around 5 a.m. to teach my class to high school juniors and seniors. It’s an assignment that I love, but it does take its toll. Because of that commitment, I don’t get enough sleep or exercise and have very little in the way of discretionary time. So as I anticipate the prospect of getting my mornings back (for the summer at least), I find myself trying to decide what to do with the time that might otherwise have been occupied with preparing for or teaching lessons in the wee hours of the morning.

The most obvious change is likely to be that I will sleep more. That’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help wondering what I might accomplish if I had the self-discipline necessary to continue getting up at 5 a.m.  Imagine the possibilities:

  • Exercise
  • Study the scriptures
  • Do work that might otherwise occupy my afternoon or evening hours
  • Goof off

Any of those options—including the goofing off—would be preferable to simply lounging away the hours (provided, that is, that I’m getting sufficient sleep)—especially since it promises to provide me more time with my wife and children. Continuing to show such early morning discipline would also show a strength of character that would make Ben Franklin proud.

He wouldn’t be the only one. The Lord has said: “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124). If I could just get the “retire to thy bed early” part down, I would be set.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It will provide a great test. How willing will I be to get up early when I don’t have to? I certainly have enough on my to-do list tomorrow to warrant it. We shall see.

There is a bigger issue here, of course. Any time we successfully get ourselves to do something we don’t much feel like doing, we build a pattern of discipline that is consistent with the expectations of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he outlined a long list of challenges for us to rise above low expectations. It is what King Benjamin referred to as “putting off the natural man”—becoming a different sort of person than we might otherwise be: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love (Mosiah 3:19). I don’t know about you, but none of those things come “naturally” to me.

Christ himself set the bar even higher: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” he asked. “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Now I don’t mean to suggest that getting up before the sun is “Christlike.” I only suggest that my ability to show the discipline to get up and get going improves my chances of becoming more like Him in that which matters most. After all, discipline is the essence of discipleship.

Hmmm. You’ve talked me into it: Tomorrow, I shall rise early on a day I do not have to. And I shall be a better man for it. (Wish me luck.)

PW

A Little Dazed–Maybe Even Catatonic

Dear Will:

I don’t quite believe what I have gotten myself into.

Several months ago the local church leaders approached me to see what I would think about an idea they had. To be specific, they wondered if I might be willing to teach early morning Seminary. Now in case you don’t know—or you maybe purged it from your personal memory—early morning Seminary is sort of like Bible Study for Mormons. The catch: It’s held at 6 a.m. . . . for high schoolers—by any measure the humans least likely to be alert at six in the morning.

For some reason I said yes. Not that I really know that much about the Old Testament, you understand. But I felt pretty strongly that it was something that God wanted me to do—so I agreed without really knowing how in the world I would pull it off.

The early morning part is no big deal for me. What is proving much harder, however, is finding time to prepare for 6 a.m. without staying up past midnight to get it done. As one who has grown accustomed in recent years to using the hours after the kids and Dana have gone to bed to try to get a little work done, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the reallocation of my evening hours. Now I have to find an hour or so to prepare a lesson and I need to get to bed by around 10:30 p.m. if I want to avoid passing out on my way to work. And it ain’t easy.

Case in point: Although I am adjusting, the other day I was having such a hard time staying awake on the drive to work that I finally pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, tilted back the seat, and took a little nap—at 8:20 a.m. Not good. Fortunately, now that I’m about three weeks in to this new assignment, I’m doing much better.

Here’s what’s cool about this job. First off, the kids are terrific. I’m teaching a bunch of seniors who are a total delight, reasonably enthusiastic and for the most part willing to participate. (Still, 6 a.m. is early, so there’s only so much energy and enthusiasm that they can reasonably summon. There are always a handful who looked a little dazed—maybe even catatonic. I probably look the same to them.) I’m also enjoying the necessity of reading and studying the scriptures each day. Not that I haven’t done that to some degree or the other for some time—but when you have to teach what you’re reading to someone else, it adds both focus and intensity to your exploration.

The biggest pay-off of all is that teaching Seminary is filling my mind with the word of God, which is (I hope) making me a better person. Since I have to ponder and teach eternal truths each day, I also feel compelled to try harder to apply those truths. Although I still holler at my kids too much and get grumpy and commit any number of other daily transgressions, I can already feel the difference it is making to be preoccupied with the Gospel. There are certainly worse things to fill your mind with, wouldn’t you say?

So if, in the months ahead, I start to write you a letter and nod off part way through, I hope you’ll understand and jfiosdklkjfk jkdkjkjj zzzzzjjjjjjjjjjjjzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . . . . . .

PW