Would I?

"I would never do that," J said the other day in reference to a friend's recent life choices. "And as a parent, I would never enable it."

He was looking to me to agree with him. Yes, he needed to hear, our lives would never, ever look like that. We are more responsible. We are more spiritually in tune. We follow God's guidance and thus would never be put in that kind of situation.

But I didn't reassure him. I couldn't.


Too often in my life, I've felt I was on the receiving end of the "I would never..." statement.

"I would never live in a tent!" said to imply that my father-- the hardest working, most faithful man I know-- was selfishly pursuing a dream at the expense of providing for his family. 

"I would never give birth at home!" said to imply that I, as a homebirther, was a glutton for pain, hated doctors, and would foolishly disregard the safety of my child in the pursuit of some hippy ideal.

"I would never stay in that kind of marriage!" said to imply that if I did, I somehow lacked self-respect.

"I would never let myself go like that!" said to imply that gaining weight would be tantamount to failing as a woman.

"I would never have so many/so few children."

"I would never spend my money that way."

"I would never raise my kid like that."

"I would never say that, think that, do that, believe that, eat that, endure that, trust that, hope that, live that, suffer that, decide that, deny myself that, etc, etc, etc."

The truth is, none of us can say, "I would never" with any certainty. 


There is a story that should be familiar to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of the Martin Handcart Company. The Mormon pioneers that made up the company were converts who had emigrated from Europe and were too poor to buy oxen or horses and a wagon. They were forced by their poverty to pull handcarts containing all of their belongings across the plains by their own brute strength. They left late in the season. Many died of exposure and starvation. 

Years later, a teacher, conducting a sunday school class, said it was unwise to attempt, even to permit, the handcart company to come across the plains under such conditions. This comment sparked sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders among the class participants. 

An old man in the corner listened for as long as he could stand it, then stood and said, in essence, "You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. I and my wife were in that company. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism?

"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and said, I can only go that far and then I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.

"I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then, nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company."


I think the essence of the "I would never" statement is fear. What it really means is, "Please say that that would never be asked of me." It means, "Please say that if I make all the right decisions, my life won't be painful in that way." It means, "Please tell me that I actually have control of my life."

I don't think that life is an equation. That if I take righteous desires and add hard work and good intentions, it equals success as I envision it. Yes, God wants people to provide for their families, but that doesn't mean that good people never starve or go homeless. Yes, God wants children to be raised by loving parents, but that doesn't mean that loving couples never suffer infertility. We've all heard it: bad things happen to good people. 


"But what about agency?" J asks, "Don't you believe that some bad things happen because people make really bad choices?" 

Yes, I do. And yes, I've gotten all judg-y about some choices that people have made. I tend to see things very black and white, right or wrong, and it's hard to keep my heart open when I feel like someone is flushing their life down the toilet and hurting others in the process. 

But haven't I flushed my own life a few times? Haven't I made bad choices? Haven't I scarred people along the way? 

I'm not going to make it through this life without making mistakes, both inadvertent and intentional. But all those failures and bull-headed blunders and depressive bouts and holy-schnikes-I-didn't-ask-for-this-in-my-life pains have drawn me closer to God. 

I've learned. I've grown. I wouldn't change things {even though I don't want to live them over again either.}


Our discussion was becoming heated. J kept saying, "How can you think that what so-and-so is doing is okay?" and I kept saying, "How can you think it's our place to judge?" 

It wasn't until later that we realized that what he meant was, "I'm afraid that you would make the same choice if we were in the same circumstance," and what I meant was, "I'm afraid that your version of a righteous and successful life might not match our eventual reality."

Once it boiled down to fear, we were able to finally let it go. 

This person's life is not our life. Their journey doesn't have to make sense to us in order for us to love them. I'm sure our journey doesn't make sense to others from the outside looking in. We all have a price to pay to become acquainted with God. All I can hope is that I can find compassion for others on their way, and recognize that mine is a privilege to pay. 


The Dragonfly said...

The story you shared of the Martin and Willey handcart pioneer was just used on trek with our youth ... A powerful example of not judging when we lack understanding.

Crystal Hansen said...

You guys remind me of us in reverse! Jones is so your brother, Often I relate to J in your dynamic. Love your perspective.

Samuel + Olivia said...

Thank you for sharing. Please keep doing so.

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