Sunday, September 30, 2012

Struggles, part VIII: Finding relevance

 My first mission president asks us to occasionally send life updates. This is an excerpt from my most recent e-mail.

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I believe the last time [July 2011] I sent you an update I just returned from India, full of fire and energy and starting my new job.

For various reasons after I sent that e-mail I hit a bit of a spiritual skid, from which I've recovered. The main theme has been finding the gospel's relevance in my life.

As I launched myself into my new job in San Francisco, I was in a new environment, both in the macro sense (new city) and micro sense (new ward, new housemates, new colleagues).

I was suddenly doing lots of work, all the time, all very technical, not really interacting with the gospel. Or the hanging out with my new friends in the ward -- we would chat or watch movies or go out salsa dancing. Or even when I went on dates -- we would talk and chat about interests, but often times the gospel -- other than setting the mutual underlying expectations -- didn't really seem relevant. I found a couple friends in the ward with whom I could have the type of discussions about the gospel that I would have with my Stanford ward members, but even so it was intellectualizing.

This feeling cast a pall over everything I did -- I would try to read my scriptures, and not see how the stories were relevant to my life. I would go to church, and wonder the same thing.

While there's nothing that I can quite put my finger on, things started to turn around and change as fall turned into winter. Maybe it was watching a good friend -- the sister of the girl that introduced me to the Church -- be sealed in the temple over Christmas.

Quite luckily I was called as assistant executive secretary, which let me get to know the members of the bishopric and have someone around as a model. It reminded me that there were more important things than the worldly stuff that would make me get ahead at work.

I was pretty sick of my job though -- the people there weren't nice, no one really cared about each other, and I had an offer on the table with a startup down near Stanford. I gave two weeks notice -- coincidentally, my last day was the day before I flew out to Las Vegas and saw you last. I moved down to Stanford and got back in touch with my old friends.

One of them was an old home teacher who I had grown close to, and we started having weekly planning sessions, talking about our goals and the things we want to achieve, and making plans to do so.

Of course, there were lots of small things I thought about -- worrying about being consumed by Facebook, wanting to get things certain things done at work. But my flaws and weaknesses, how they were preventing me from achieving my goals, and the importance of applying various gospel concepts in overcoming them, became more apparent.

In May a good friend of mine from Stanford got back from her mission.

If you're counting months you'll see that she left in October 2010, two months before I got home. We'd been writing each other on and off for the last 3.5 years, and I was eager to be in closer contact. I'd told Laura about my feelings for her a couple months before, and I nervously wrote her an email a couple days after she got home. Soon enough we were talking once a week, then twice a week, then twice a week for two hours. We made a plan for me to come visit (she lives in upstate NY), which I did.
 
She was full of mission zeal, and in swapping stories I probably did more talking and thinking about my mission in two months of phone calls than I had in the last ten months.  I came, and we decided to start dating long-distance.

I feel like in many ways, being in a relationship is a daily tutorial about living the gospel. Talking to someone every day, seeing their weaknesses and fears and hopes, having them see yours, deciding through our actions and words whether to be supportive or not, caring or not, thoughtful or not, selfish or not.

Though most of the time being around each other is just natural (as it should be), but often these decisions will come up. They occur in each aspect of the relationship -- when we're hanging out with her family, at church, or by ourselves; if we're doing something together or if we just talking to each other; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

And at the same time, these decisions often don't come up when you're doing technical tasks and work or forming superficial bonds. I think that's why I found it difficult to see gospel applications in my life for a while.