Last week I wrote about how need to “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” (D&C 123:17) At the end I asked the question “What about the things that lie outside of our power?” I have some thoughts on that as well, but first, a story.
You’ve heard the expression, “That’s just sour grapes,” right? You probably already know, but that idiom comes from one of Aesop’s fables. A quick refresher:
A Fox one day spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox's mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them. The bunch hung from a high branch, and the Fox had to jump for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain. Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust. "What a fool I am," he said. "Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth jumping for." And off he walked very, very scornfully. (link)
I have been that fox before. There have been times where something I want hasn’t materialized. Whether it be an object, a relationship, a social issue, or even religious things such as answers to prayers. As Mick and Keith said long ago, “You can’t always get what you want…”
There are two types of things that fall into this category:
1) Things I can control, but fail. (Example: I need to eat healthy.)
2) Things I have zero control over. (Inflation is skyrocketing.)
Both are problematic, but only I only have the power to affect one of them. The other is going to happen regardless of what I do.
In both of these situations, I have found that I often turn to the same response: Apathy.
• BYU lost again? I’ll just quit caring about the football team this year. Maybe I’ll give them another chance next year.
• Our political system is out of control? I’ll just stop watching/reading the news because all it does is make me angry.
Apathy is an effective way to protect ourselves from disappointment. When it is something within our power, sometimes it is easier to just say we don’t care than to do what it takes to change it, or to keep trying, again and again and again. Multiple attempts at growth or seeking answers and resulting failures can reinforce that apathetic attitude.
When it is something beyond our control, it is easy to say, “Forget it. I’m just going to live in my bubble and not care about it anymore.” It is self-protective, and can keep us from dwelling on those things we can’t control, and being reminded about it. Sounds like a peaceful way to live, doesn’t it?
However, there is a problem with that approach. Apathy doesn’t work. Literally and figuratively. Apathy is the absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. It’s being indifferent to a person or situation.
I don’t believe we were sent here to earth to learn to not care about things. Nor were we sent here to block out the stuff we don’t like so we can blissfully live our lives. Sure, it is appealing to say, “Look, I just DON’T CARE!” But, God has made it a point in scripture to tell us that we are responsible to know what is going on in the world, and we are responsible to progress and grow while we’re here.
Turning a blind eye to the things that we don’t like so that we can kick back and enjoy life? That attitude doesn’t sit well with Nephi:
And others will he a pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21)
We hear, “It’s all good!” But we know our inner-narrator voice is saying: “It’s not all good.”
But what option do we have for apathy? What can we do to deal with those frustration if we shouldn’t completely block them out?
That’s where acceptance comes in. Recently I stumbled across a quote, (Because I was searching for one) that said this:
“There’s a difference between apathy and acceptance. Apathy lets you endure life. Acceptance helps you enjoy it.” (Dr. Joan Marques)
I thought a lot about that, because I know that I am guilty of lurching towards apathy when I get frustrated. I have been known to utter the words in my own brain, “Screw it. I’m just going to quit worrying about it and what happens, happens.” (Sorry if that sounds a bit crass.)
Unfortunately, those declarations come from a place of frustration, resentment, and sometime, anger. That is not a nice place to visit, let alone to dwell there. Oh, yeah: “Men are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)
What is the alternative? Acceptance. It is the latter part of the verse, ““…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.” Section 123:17
Standing still can often be the tricky part. I put forward that “standing still” isn’t necessarily physical – it can be mental and spiritual as well.
A personal example would be that there are religious questions and concepts that I have been unable to answer, even with focused prayer and study. (And that’s OK!) From there, I have two directions: I can get frustrated and try and tell myself that I just don’t care about it (apathy). Or I can accept the fact that I just don’t know, and then “stand still” and wait on the Lord with faith to eventually provide me with answers. (Acceptance.)
Again, as Dr. Marques said, “There’s a difference between apathy and acceptance. Apathy lets you endure life. Acceptance helps you enjoy it.”
I have found that for me, personally, my initial, gut-reaction to things that frustrate me or are out of my control is to lurch towards apathy. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my personal process is something like this.
- I encounter something that frustrates me that is out of my control.
- I think hard about it, and get irritated.
- Enter apathy: “Fine. I’m just not going to think about it or care about it.
- Carry a negative attitude going forward.
Here’s the part I’m learning and working on:
- Let the dust from emotions and frustration settle.
- Reflect, research and pray.
- Find acceptance and peace, usually through the Spirit.
- Carry a hopeful attitude forward.
What I have come to realize is that while apathy may be a reflex, it can also be a bridge to acceptance if I use that time to just chill out, distancing myself from the passion, where I can then look at things with new eyes. There are things that have frustrated me for a long time that I am just getting to where I can accept them, and now they don’t irritate me. That is a much nicer place to be. I can honestly say that as I have been working on this, I am happier.
When Moroni quoted his dad’s teaching on charity, he included something that I think applies:
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45)
The part that stands out for me regarding apathy is, “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
To me, that sounds like acceptance. It is a faith-based acceptance, knowing that God will sort things out, eventually, and that we will find our answers, eventually. That is “hope.”
When we find ourselves lurching towards apathy, one of the people we need to be most charitable with is ourselves. We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves when we are falling short, or frustrated by ourselves or others. Acceptance isn’t necessarily about other people and other things – it can be about accepting our efforts and imperfections as well. Apathy does not lead to repentance or growth. Acceptance, fueled by charity, gives us a clearer vision of what needs yet to be done.
How do we get that kind of charity, and relationship with the Spirit – because we do need him to do the heavy lifting? We ask for it.
“Wherefore…pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moroni 7:48)
What would a prayer like that feel like? Perhaps we would include things like this: “Lord, please help me be patient, please help me find joy amidst the struggle, please help me caccept the things I can’t change, and still care about them.”
We can’t not care. We are here to have an amazing emotional experience, not to shut ourselves down emotionally, or cut ourselves off from what is happening around us. It is all part of our life’s journey.
Whether we respond to the challenges with apathy, or acceptance might just make the difference between enduring life and enjoying life.
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”