When I was eight, my Mom fed the Mormon Missionaries dinner. We often fed the missionaries, and my parents often went the extra mile to take care of the sets of two boys who walked through our doors. Mom would sometimes do their laundry. Dad always fired up the grill and made luscious steaks. Feeding the missionaries was an exciting event.
But once, my mom forgot. We pulled into our own driveway to find the missionaries patiently waiting on our porch.
“Oh, no. Oh, no. Ohnoohnoohno!” My Mom said, barreling out of the car, “Do you like pizza?” That was the first great lesson I learned that night. There’s ALWAYS choices and mistakes happen and everyone ends up happy. Earlier this year, I had the Mormon Missionaries -FOUR growing boys -meet me at Subway where I picked up the tab. I thought of my Mom, and I thought about how everything works out even if it doesn’t work out the way we planned it out in our heads.
The second lesson came after the pizza. One of the elders began talking gospel with me, asking me questions. It was weird. I wasn’t at church, but he was asking me church questions. Why was he asking me stuff I’d learned years ago? Did he think I hadn’t listened in church? I hadn’t listened to my parents?
When he finally quit talking and asking, he smiled and said, “Did you realize that you know more than most people about all this stuff?”
“What?” I asked, not really getting what he was driving at. I was EIGHT. I knew some stuff, but definitely not more than “most people” (whoever they were).
“Most people don’t know why they’re here on earth. You do.” His answer kind of shocked me. And then he started sniffing his own armpits which weirded me out so bad that though I can’t remember his name or face, I remember THAT.
Why am I here on earth? The answer I’ve had all these years is simple, “to be tested.”
To be tested.
It makes sense. I’m sent tests here on earth: spiritual, financial, emotional, physical, social. These are the main subjects in the test packet. I’ve known this answer for so long that I accepted it and all of the word-associations that go with it.
Tests are quiet, stressful things where a teacher stands at the front of the class and wears black and wonders out loud if you’ve LEARNED ANYTHING THIS YEAR AT ALL. The clock ticks and minds spin. I wondered why my score would rank. Would I pass? Would I score higher than the kid next to me? Lower? At the end of the day, I was a terrible test-taker. I always scored lower than The Blessed Children who had AMAZING abilities to remember stuff they HEARD. I had an amazing ability to remember stuff I could get my hands on. Listening? How could I wrap my hands around sound waves and put them to the test?
Somewhere between my time spent in a desk and my time spent spreading my own wings, I felt the full gravity of BEING TESTED.
God was that teacher, silent and indignant. It was my job to show Him that I WAS GETTING IT. I was racing against the clock and the folks next to me and myself in hateful, warped race.
My prayers were the best I could make them. I went to church and I fulfilled my callings and I read my scriptures and I thought I had the “spiritual” section in the test all wrapped up. I performed to the best of my ability, and I felt good. I was earning a good grade.
I wasn’t the best financially, but I wasn’t the worst. God would surely see that.
Emotionally, well. If I kept busy enough, I didn’t have time or space to get TOO emotional. It was my game plan, and it was successful.
Physical -here! Here was a place I could REALLY work hard. I was good at earning good grades, and I could earn more. I definitely needed to be more fit, and I needed to eat better.
Social, I had lots of friends. Whew!
I really was doing the best I possibly could with what I had.
I really, really was. I feel compassion for myself -for the way I thought I had to work so incredibly hard. I know God has compassion for That Alicia too because she still comes out to play, and when I realize She’s here… I stop, take a deep breath and stop earning. And God is quietly with me. I hear Him when I slow back down and give up trying to play my own Savior.
When it all came crashing down was when my game-plan of being so busy I wasn’t too emotional ran out. Apparently, my body can only handle so much. My marriage relationship was crumbling, my heart was broken -and it felt irreparable.
There’s no talking allowed during tests, I know. And I’ve always been very careful about rules. But it turns out -this was a shocker to me -there’s someone inside of me who doesn’t care about the rules, and at that point in my life, I threw down my pencil and threw up my arm and asked the judging, silent, distant, Teacher for some desperate help.
That was a life-changing moment for me. Everything began shifting. And just as “to be tested” is a simple answer with complex issues, so is the phrase, “everything began shifting.” This wasn’t a comfortable thing. This wasn’t a, “ooh! Let’s check out this word problem from a different perspective.” This is shifting of tectonic plates, folks. Rumbling, earth-shattering shifting.
The Teacher came to my aid. I was in so much physical pain, I thought my heart was pouring out of my chest. The Teacher put it back in and held me. Everyone in the room vanished, and it was just me. There was no earning, there was no score, and there was no clock ticking.
There was no silent distance between the teacher and I. There wasn’t even a desk.
In that moment, things began changing. Old patterns die hard, of course, so at first these moments were just that: moments. They were fleeting and warm, balms of healing in a typhoon of confusion and torment.
That was 6 years ago.
I can’t believe it’s been that long. God is so very patient -more patient than I am. I wanting those fleeting moments to be my mainstay. I wanted the old beliefs and patterns to just vanish forever -instantly! But so very often the opposite was my reality. I spent more time in my proverbial desk, relegating God to His cold, distant position at the front of the class. I raced against my fellow brothers and sisters in a tormented frenzy of pencil lead and eraser dust.
Then I’d crash and burn, crumbled in tears. And God would be there, keeping my heart in my chest.
Yesterday as I prayed, this all just clicked for me. Six years after the fact, God revealed to me how I’d been living. I didn’t see it as I was in it, but looking back…
As I prayed yesterday, I felt God asking me -or maybe it was ME asking ME in the silent confines of my still ponderings, “How can I be tested on material I know nothing about?”
For YEARS, I’d hated myself for “not passing” tests in a way I perceived my Teacher would find approving. But why? WHY did I punish myself for not handling things well?
In high school, I’d never dealt with depression until I did. And then I hated myself for not handling it perfectly.
In college, I’d never dealt with outrageous amounts of credit hours. I hated myself for not passing everything with flying colors.
Life got heavier and harder from there: addiction, mental illness, financial stuff, relationship stuff! NONE of which I’d ever been given course material on. None of which I’d ever dreamed would be in my test packet. That alone was a huge learning experience for me: I’m not exempt. Miscarriage isn’t something that happens to other people. Unhealthy relationship dynamics aren’t something that happen to people who aren’t smart enough to “just leave.” Chronic health issues aren’t things that happen to people who can’t “just get over it.”
And with all the self-help books out there, there is NO SPECIFIC PREP COURSE MATERIAL. In school, the teacher says, “There’s going to be a test on this,” and she hands you papers and books and information and study partners. In life, the test comes first. The studying comes after.
That’s why I don’t hate myself anymore. Because HOW can I handle life beautifully and flawlessly if I don’t know what the hell I’m doing?
Am I messing up? YES. That’s why I need a teacher! Do I know the answers? NO. That’s why I need a teacher.
Life isn’t confined to a neat room with desks and clocks. Life is a really muddy thing, and my Teacher is right there with me. Sometimes I’m too numbed out on TV or food or social media to pay attention. Sometimes I’m silently sitting with Him, basking in His life-giving light. I vacillate, and I’m infinitely a work in progress.
Spiritually, I still go to church and fulfill my callings -but for different reasons now. I’m not earning anything. I just love God, and I want to help out. My time here is on loan anyway. God gives it to me daily, so I want to give back. Do I always do it? Do I always roll out of bed right into prayers and meditation? No. This morning, I rolled right out of bed and into facebook and then I ate a leftover waffle because I’d just woken up from a nightmare of a dream where my food was constantly being taken away before I could eat it. I’m not perfect at all this stuff which is why I need Teacher, self-compassion, humility, and courage to keep trying.
Emotionally, I’m a rat mess of crazy. Anxiety has been with me since I was a little kid, terrified of the house burning down. I’m not earning anything here anymore. I’m just in daily need of help. This is why I need Teacher, self-compassion, humility, and courage to keep trying.
Physically, all the years of keeping busy caught up. I’m sick pretty much daily. And I can’t just get over it -I used to believe that was a legitimate thing. What I can do is move into acceptance, “Alicia, you’re sick. You’re going to slow down now.” This is why I need Teacher, self-compassion, humility and courage to keep trying.
Socially, I see every One. They’re like me. I’m not always kind or thoughtful. I don’t remember every birthday or event. I can be flaky and awkward. I judge and repent and judge and repent. But everyone around me isn’t scoring higher or lower than I am. I’m not racing against them. I’m covered in the same mud they’re covered in, we just wear it differently. You’d think that would be enough for me to just… LOVE them. But I can’t because I don’t fully understand how to love myself the right way yet. This is why I need Teacher, self-compassion, humility, and courage to just keep trying.
So why AM I here?
To be tested, hands-on. It ever was so, from Adam and Eve.
I find beautiful roots in my trials -my ancestors dealt with the same daily test questions I do: preparing food that doesn’t quite turn out, washing dishes only to have the dirtied again. They have loved ones pass away or quit speaking to them. They lived through sickness, vanity, distress, hunger, whining children, nosy neighbors! It ever was so.
And it never was not.
I take comfort in the constancy. I know My Teacher was their Teacher, and I know My Teacher is Your Teacher. I don’t understand it fully, but I understand that I’m not required to. I’m only required to keep trying, understanding that trying means failing sometimes and winning sometimes -a humbling tight-rope practice of sorts.
Most importantly: I understand that my Teacher isn’t distant unless I decide so.