I feel my life is at a crossroads. The strange thing is, I don’t know which path to take because I don’t know what it is I want. It isn’t a question of what is right or wrong, but what my passions and intentions are. In my heart of hearts I am very aware it doesn’t matter which path I choose to travel down. The essential factor is me finally making a decision.
The trouble is. . . I currently don’t have a dream. Beyond my faith and my desire to make righteous decisions my goals center little on an aspiring career, travel or creative exploration. Plus, being single any thoughts on a future family have to be put aside so I can live fully in the now. I can’t control certain aspects of my life, no matter how strongly I want to. Falling in love is unfortunately a miracle I am patiently waiting for.
So, what do I do now? I have found in my experience at times like this, when I am unsure of what lies ahead of me, I look back on previous moments in my life which changed me. In this instance, it is on a bus stop in Krasnodar Russia. It is where I began to learn to SEE others and myself with eyes unclouded.
Thus we come to the title of this particular blog. It is not a review but a reflection and memory from my time as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints in Rostov, Russia.
As missionaries, leaders from the church assign us to particular areas of the world. I had no control over where they sent me. When I went to Russia, I remember such a flurry of emotions engulfing me, mostly centered on my anxiety and fear. Questions and doubts constantly swirled in my mind: Would I ever understand the language? Did my small actions matter? How could I overcome my intense timidity and shyness around people?
During my third month, I lived in Krasnodar in South Western Russia, somewhat close to the Black sea. On one particular day traveling with my companion on the local bus, I remember feeling particularly withdrawn and depressed at heart. It wasn’t a feeling of wanting to go home, but wanting to understand why I was there.
On the back of the bus, I looked out the window and watched two men sitting at the bus stop across the street. At first glance everything seemed normal, but then I noticed the older of the two becoming increasingly agitated with his younger companion. Before long he started hitting the younger man, who I guessed was his son, and yelling at him. Carefully watching, I saw the younger man agonizingly place his hands over his ears and curl down on the bench against the onslaught.
This scene lasted, for me at least, only 30 seconds. But it stayed with me throughout my mission. I had an intimate moment with God as I reflected on these two men. I had seen the older man’s anger, brutality and condescension. I had witnessed the younger man’s pain, fear and withdrawal. But beyond that, as I sat on the bus shaken by this scene, I felt as though a clear bell had rung in my heart. It was then I knew both of these men were children of God and both of them were hurting. This was a moment I could see the way our Father in Heaven sees.
I realized this was not a case of one victim but two. I wondered how much I did not know about their story, the trials they had faced together, the pains, fears, joys and sorrows which come in life. Did they drink? If so, how did they start drinking? What about money? The list of questions went on and on. The more questions that came, the more I felt my heart swell in love and compassion for those two men. I never saw them again, but I still remember them.
And on that bus ride and in days to come I pondered the thousands upon thousands of souls we pass by every day. How easy it is for us to judge when we can not possibly understand the intricacy of another human soul.
How did this relate to how I was feeling? I realized the power of small simple acts of love and kindness and also of knowing that through Christ pains and fears are nullified and replaced with joy and peace. Can simply talking to a woman on a bus make a difference? Yes. It can make all the difference in the world. Sometimes it meant only complimenting her nails. Other times it led to sharing our message about Christ and His doctrine.
Thinking on this experience, I realize it taught me to be careful of my judgment of other people. I remind myself to truly look around me at those who are hurting and remember them with love.
Just as I had to see through God’s eyes to clearly know those two men in Russia, I know I need Him to see myself in the same manner. Even now I judge myself harshly for not being or looking a certain way, for not being married or having a specific type of job. In those moments I have to pause and remember. I know I need to be kind to myself and not ever underestimate who I am now and who I am becoming. Elder Dieter F. Uchdorf of the Quorum of the twelve said, “Being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual well-being.”
I now look back on those fears and questions I carried, especially at the beginning of my mission, without a trace of anxiety. I did learn the language, overcome my shyness and embraced my time being with the people and sharing with them my love and knowledge of God and his plan for us. But it took time, patience and sitting often with God, as I pondered myself and others.
So who is to say I won’t feel the same years from now about these questions and concerns I have now? One constant I do know is I will change. And that is a good thing. It is as the singer Sam Cooke once sang.
There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
-A Change Gonna Come, Same Cooke
If we are to begin to understand our purpose here, we must start in our hearts to turn to God. As we draw closer to Him through thoughts and actions, His love heals us, strengthens us, and enlivens our souls. It is truly as Leo Tolstoy once said, “I live, really live, only when I feel Him and seek Him. “What more do you seek?” exclaimed a voice within me. “This is He. He is that without which one cannot live. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life.” (A Confession, 1881)