May 25, 2012
"Tell Me Something Good"
One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. His opening lines in "A Tale of Two Cities," I believe, captures the essence of what most people have experienced from the beginning of time. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the season of hope. It was the season of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us."
Life ebbs and flows for all of us. I think the universal challenge we face is while in the midst of those "worst of times," and our "seasons of despair" we all inevitably experience, is to realize it can also be the "best of times," and the "season of hope." It all depends on how we choose to look at and interpret what is going on in our individual lives.
A number of years ago, Barbara Johnson wrote a beautiful little book entitled "Pain Is Inevitable, Misery Is Optional." I believe it was her way of saying what Dickens said in the opening lines of his book. So much depends upon how we choose to look at our life's experiences.
A couple of weeks ago my friend, Larry Barrett, sent me an article written by Michael Jordan Segal. Mike Segal works at a level I Trauma facility trying to encourage the patients who live there, most suffering from serious and life-changing physical, emotional, and mental problems. Mike himself had been shot in the head as a younger man, had been able to recover completely, and has devoted his life since then to lifting and encouraging the patients in the trauma center.
Whenever he sees one of the patients, instead of saying hello, or how are you doing, he says "Tell me something good!" One elderly gentleman who was quite far gone looked at Mike when asked that question and in a weak voice said, "Peanut Butter." Mike pushed the gentleman a bit to encourage him to tell him something good about himself. The patient replied, "I want to eat a peanut butter sandwich." He apparently liked peanut butter!
Another patient responded to his question by saying, "I woke up."
There is so much wrong with all of us and with the world that I think Mike's question is so very important. I am sure we have all had days when it would take a lot of soul-searching and introspection to come up with an answer to someone who would say to us, "Tell me something good."
I was in a rehabilitation hospital a month or so after my accident, flat on my back, and starring up at the acoustical tile on the ceiling and counting the holes. Suddenly my older brother, Darrel, appeared at my bedside and looking down at me said, "Jake, now that you can't do anything, what do you like to do the best?" No, he didn't say, "Tell me something good," but at that time in my recovery the only "something good" I could get out was, "I like to breathe!" My answer was about as profound and insightful as "Peanut Butter," but it was truthful.
The other day I had occasion to be talking to a woman who is having some serious health issues. She is not that old and is really struggling to deal with what is happening to her. During the course of our conversation the thought came to me to try Mike Segal's question on her. I said, "Tell me something good." With a surprised look on her face she thought for just a second and then said, "I can walk." She then began to tell me some other good things about her life. Even if it may have been for just a minute or two I could tell that her telling me something good made her feel good.
I believe a challenge many of us face is to be able to tell ourselves something good about ourselves. Most of us are painfully aware of our weaknesses and most nauseating characteristics, and especially in our individual seasons of despair we need to look for something good.
I believe this is why I love so much being able to give patriarchal blessings. To me, a patriarchal blessing is a gift of love that Heavenly Father desires each of his children to have. In the blessing he reveals to us who we really are and what our infinite potential is as his sons and daughters. I have been privileged to give blessings to nine-year-olds and 89-year-olds and all ages in between over the years. A wonderful thing happens as I give the blessing, in that regardless of their chronological age in mortality, they are seen and blessed in that moment as infinite and eternal sons and daughters of God – they are ageless. The Lord, through patriarchs, truly does "tell us something good."
In our "worst of times," it might be helpful to read our blessings to be reminded of how the Lord sees us.
The Scriptures are replete with examples of great men and women, who if asked "tell me something good," in the midst of their difficult and dire circumstances might like Job, whom I have chosen to represent them all, only be able to say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth!"
However dark our circumstances may look to us, when asked, "Tell me something good," if it isn't peanut butter, or just waking up, or walking, or breathing, hopefully like Job or Nephi, the "something good" we should always be able to tell is, "Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation." [2 Nephi 4:30]