Summertime has been blissful so far. And by blissful, I mean, I'm having the time of my life and staying up way too late and kind of not even feeling bad about how perpetually tired I am. I've recently had a couple nights of driving back to my apartment after midnight. There's something about driving when the world is a little more quiet and the roads are empty. I often drive without my radio on because I like having the "me time" to think. Sometimes I even talk out loud, mostly praying, sometimes to myself. Late night drives alone are my happy place.
The thing I love about these drives is not just that I have the time to really think, but also to listen. Sometimes, I think we pray, or start down a train of thoughts in our minds, and quickly get distracted by something. When you're driving, it's much easier to stay on that thought because you really don't have much else to do until you reach your destination. I've had a few great a-ha moments during these late night drives recently.(But not of the "Take On Me" variety, the radio is off, remember?)
I don't really know how this train of thought came about, but one night I got to thinking about how good I feel about my life right now and thinking about how rough things felt just a couple months ago. I want to understand what made the difference, to know how I was holding myself back, to figure out what I was learning... my mind often works in images, and the "picture" of my life a few months ago is of me clinging for dear life to a rope. Like, one of those awful gym class ropes. The "picture" of me now is of me standing on a solid, cement floor.
I've let my mind play with these pictures for a few weeks now, and I'm kind of putting the pieces together. The clinging was just that - clinging. The more I imagine about that picture, the more I realize that I felt like I had to hold onto that rope with everything in me. I thought that letting go meant falling. I didn't think I had anything to land on. In fact, in my mind, I imagine giant alligators in a big, yucky, bottomless swamp. And in my mind those alligators have names like "what if" and "you're not good enough" and "nobody wants you". The rope, in my mind, is multiple things - things like writing thank you notes, going to the temple, reassurance from friends and family, prayers (lots and lots of tear-filled prayers), etc.
I learned a lot from the clinging. I've never read my scriptures quite like I read them during those really rough months. I craved them. I needed more knowledge and more peace and I was starving for it every day. I talked to friends and family often. They reassured me and I often wrote down things they said so I could go back to that and rely on that when I had moments where I didn't feel so reassured. Things changed when I felt like all I had was that rope.
And then one day, I loosened my grip on the rope. Not to let go, not to give up, but to breathe. Because I realized I hadn't been breathing. I was white knuckling it and terrified. On one magical day, I finally loosened my grip just enough to step back and look at my surroundings. That's when I found that solid cement. It had been there underneath me the entire time, right below my feet. It wasn't moving, it wasn't going anywhere, it was firm.
Maybe this is feeling cheesy to you. I realize it might seem silly, but in my mind, it's a beautiful, visual representation of what I've learned. Things got hard and I didn't feel like my feet were on the ground. I clung to the best things - I needed to. But more importantly, I learned that you don't have to spend your entire life clinging. At some point, you have to loosen up enough to recognize that foundation that's been there the whole time. There are things you already know, solid ground to rely on - and often that solid ground was built from the very things you were clinging to.
Letting go of the rope felt wrong. Because clinging to the rope was about doing all the "right things". And I knew those things were blessing my life, I knew they were! But there is a difference between doing "what you're supposed to" and actively making choices that you deeply feel are right. It turns out that sometimes actively making your own choices is hard, really hard. Sometimes there are hard questions to ask, sometimes other people won't understand, and sometimes you may even feel like you are stepping away from all of those things you've relied on your whole life. The secret is in where you're stepping. There are murky waters with alligators and there's a solid cement foundation that's been built all your life. Trust the foundation, trust what you know, but take those steps and ask those hard questions.
The ropes are always there for times you need to cling - sometimes, you need to cling. But that foundation is also always there too. Trust your foundation enough to stop clinging when it's time to stop clinging.
Interestingly enough, this song is one of the ropes I was clinging to:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
If you take anything away from this blog post, take this: Sometimes, our pathways take us through fiery trials - it is meant to be that way. But the flame will never harm us. "All these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good." Our deepest distresses will be sanctified to us and we will never be forsaken. Hold on to what you know, trust your foundation, make choices that feel right to you - not based on what you're "supposed" to do. Walk through that refiners fire with the confidence that you are gold - you are already gold simply being refined to something even more precious and beautiful.