Friday, March 04, 2011

An emotional experience

I didn't post this one at the time because it was sensitive. I've changed the names. This is one of my most defining moments -- and at least in terms of the outcome, a failure. Yet it's shaped my view about the divine nature of attributes like love, patience, and the ability to make a joke (I'm serious).

I'm not the greatest at communicating, especially my feelings, but this experience gave me the drive to learn.


This evening we are making an attempt to help save the marriage of a church member.

The church member is named Bob and his wife is named Jane (not really, but names are protected for their, you know, peace of mind). After Bob set up an appointment, we missed each other but in an attempt to figure out where she was called her and that turned into a 40-minute conversation between My Companion and Jane, after which they felt like best friends - he felt like he was just talking to a female friend at home.

She pours out her heart to him about how she wants to be with Bob but she keeps doing all this stuff to him because her parents don't like him and turn her against him.

(My Companion is very relaxed and able to befriend females in America but Indian sisters are much more shy and less comfortable with friendships with males, especially large American males like My Companion. But Jane is 21 and way friendly and is the kind of person who always hangs out with the 17yos that she tutors. My Companion was really happy, because he hadn't felt that relaxed, at ease or open with girls in a while and that frustrated him.)

Jane even wants to come to church, which she does, a little bit late. Bob came on time, but left because he was frustrated at waiting for her (the first time in 18 months she's ever come to church). So Jane spends 2 hours sitting in the bakery across from the church waiting for Bob.

We met Jane once again with her husband, during which time she basically poured out her heart and soul to us and all the relationship problems they are having. (Including all the crap she did to him and all the crap he did back.) He proceeds to make her breakfast the next morning but not talk to her all day (because he was mad about her telling us all that stuff.) We had an appointment with her tonight, but we were actually calling Bob’s friend for another reason.

After we work out the details, he says, "Hey Bob is here, do you want to talk with him?" I said sure, and Bob proceeded to tell me how they had a big argument, both packed up and moved out, and now he is planning to move back to Home City permanently on Thursday.

This of course puts off alarm bells in my mind. I ask, and he clarifies: yes, without Jane.

My Companion and I were discussing last night. It went something like this.

My Companion: "Jane is basically a valley girl. I know girls just like her. She is very easy to convince and because she is driven by emotions and makes quick judgments, she feeds off the emotions of people.

To put it into your terms, she's very easy to hack into. Because she's a daddy's girl and her parents don't like Bob, every time she goes to her parents' house she's filled with all these negative emotions. So she comes back and inevitably takes them out on Bob.

He tried living with her in Home City away from her family, which didn't work, and now he's trying to keep her away from her family (so she doesn't get the source of her negative emotions.) But that doesn't work either, because she loves her family. Last time when Bob got mad at her (after the appointment), I told her to have patience and he would calm down. It worked. But then things just flared up again."

Elder Bhagwat:
(ponders and appreciates the wisdom and insightfulness of his companion) "Well, it seems we - and mostly you - are the only people that Bob and Jane both trust. So we have to figure out what to do. If Bob goes to Home City, when he cools down and comes back we will both be transferred and he'll be back at square one.

“If we can figure out how to diffuse this situation we can start to teach Jane - and Bob for that matter - about faith and repentance and forgiveness that might be the solution. Like you said we need a way to help her put in antivirus software so she can be driven by her desire to love and live with Bob and not other people's emotions....

My Companion: "Well when we talk to each of them about the exactly same matter, even something important like why Jane wants to meet with us in the first place, we get two way different answers. Bob tells us he told her about temples and being married forever and Jane tells us she had no real reason, she simply decided.

“That means they're not talking to each other and communicating so they have no idea what the other one thinks."

Elder Bhagwat: "Yeah, you're right, but we can't just tell them that."

My Companion:
"Why not? I keep telling you, it's not what you tell people it's the way you tell them."

Elder Bhagwat: (skeptically) "So how do we communicate that to them?"

My Companion: "You have to make it into a joke, into something funny. We could pick something like what her favorite food is and ask Bob what it is, and then ask her. Or her favorite color. Something unimportant. Something that doesn't matter. Then they'll laugh when he gives an incorrect answer and understand the point."

Elder Bhagwat: "That's amazing! How did you know exactly what Jane was like? And how do you react to her so well and get her to trust you? I never would have caught any of that, and I would have no idea what to do to communicate that point"

My Companion: "But I don't usually break it down like that in my head. I usually just speak at the spur of the moment." (looks confused at himself as to how he explained so clearly)

Elder Bhagwat: "That totally makes sense though! It means like you understand people so well you internalize what to do, and you just do it automatically."

My Companion:

Elder Bhagwat: "Like if I'm playing blitz chess, I have about 5 seconds to make each move. So if I make a move, I'll make it because my opponent only has his black-square bishop, and I have my knight here, but most of the pawns are still on the board so it's a closed board so my knight is more valuable that his bishop right now, so I will move my knight here.

If you stopped me and asked me, ‘Why did you make that move’ I could tell you 7 or 8 relevant reasons why but I don't actually have time to think them over in 5 seconds, I just act on some sort of instinct that has internalized those reasons. So I'll make good moves even though I'm not consciously calculating them. So you must do something like that when you talk to people.

Man I'm so glad I get to be with you and make you explain all of those reasons, 'cause I'm clueless. "

It actually fits into what we've been talking about a lot this week.

My Companion and I have been listening to a talk I have on my iPod by a church leader named Henry B. Eyring, who used to be a professor at the business school at Stanford. It's called "The Law of Increasing Returns,"

In it, he talks about how normally things we do (problem sets, cutting the lawn) yield results very quickly and redoing the same work again (doing more problems or the same problem a different way after your answer matches the one in the back of the book, cutting the lawn a third or fourth time) doesn't yield much fruit compared to the effort it takes. This is the case, he points out, with most things done outside of the home. So if we drew a graph of marginal reward against effort it would start high and drop quickly.

But inside of the home, he points out, it is quite the opposite. Years of nurturing children or patience in marriage frustrations can seem to yield few results. After a long, long period of low returns, then - only then - does the reward come. The problem, he was telling, comes from knowing what we should give our heart and soul for in return for rewards that we might now see for a long time, and then how we can get the courage to keep working and waiting. I was especially struck by a couple of his suggestions. First, to look for the humor that comes from incongruity between tons of effort and little tangible result. Second, to appreciate the blessings that do come along the way. There were tons of other really practical insights so I attached the talk for you if you wanted to read it. I'm sure you've probably learned many of them by experience but I think you'd still like it.

What really strikes me is that even though I certainly don't have the experience in working and waiting patiently for years and years in anything (Education doesn't count because I like learning), it is something that I've learned with relationships with my companions.

My Companion has so much patience and rarely reacts at me when I get frustrated, and because he has so much patience with me it really helps me to overcome problems and frustrations and lean on him as a source of strength. This is a quality that he possesses far more than myself or any of my previous companions, and because of it we probably have the strongest relationship I've had so far on my mission.

My companion’s previous companion, Elder X, was also companions with Elder Tuscano and drove Elder Tuscano absolutely crazy. But because My Companion was so patient he was able to help this elder overcome his weaknesses.

It's inspiring in that I want to develop this quality - to work and wait patiently - in myself. I know that I'm going to have tests and trials of my own as I build my career and especially my family in the future, and I know I will need it.

And also, we have to somehow break this down soon for Jane and Bob - hopefully if only by example of how strong our relationship is. We know we're over our heads, but after careful consideration we are the only men for the job right now. (Also by we I mean "Mostly My Companion")

[follow-up: this ambitious attempt to save a marriage did not work. Bob did in fact go back to Home City shortly thereafter. Last we heard the divorce was in process.

Our mission president gave My Companion and I some wise advice afterwards.

“Elders, you two are the nicest guys in the world, and you have the biggest hearts ever and that’s really amazing. But I have been in the marriage business for thirty years. And I know a lot of people who are in it too. And we can collectively count on two hands the number of troubled families we were able to help.

“You can’t help two people save their marriage unless they come to you and say, Bishop, we really want to make this work but we don’t know how and we will do anything you tell us. You certainly can’t make it work for them.”

He was right, as usual.]

1 comment:

Rich Alger said...

"I have been in the marriage business for thirty years. And I know a lot of people who are in it too. And we can collectively count on two hands the number of troubled families we were able to help.

“You can’t help two people save their marriage unless they come to you and say, Bishop, we really want to make this work but we don’t know how and we will do anything you tell us. You certainly can’t make it work for them.”

The money quote. I agree with him as sad as that is. The good news is that I can make sure my marriage works.