Tax season is upon us. That’s why none of my accountant friends are reading this.
You, on the other hand, have no excuse.
Alright, alright, so I tend to make short stories long. I will try to keep this one brief so you can enjoy your Easter week.
My husband did our taxes last month. I let him do all the money stuff because he seems to enjoy it. Also, because I’m afraid to learn more about money matters, and I don’t want to use a new system that didn’t exist when I was single.
So when he was going through the “other sources of income” field, he asked me if I had any “earnings while incarcerated” to report.
I muttered from my closet something like, “I found loose change in the washer, and I feel imprisoned–does that count?” It was getting late, so I thought myself hilariously funny.
The next morning, I stumbled across this article in the February Liahona magazine, “A Message of Hope for Those Who Are Incarcerated.” I read it with interest. And a big slice of humble pie.
I am so much more free than I sometimes tell myself.
What really spoke to me came from a talk by Joy D. Jones, president of the children’s organization in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said, “God knows you. He loves you. His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior. He atoned for each and every one of us. Because of that, Jesus understands our lives perfectly, and we can be completely forgiven of our sins. He said, ‘Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. … Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me’ (1 Nephi 21:15–16).” See also Isaiah 49:9-16.
I had always understood the reference to the palms of His hands, but why Jesus said my walls were continually before Him had never really registered in my metaphor catalogue. What were these walls and why were they continual?
I’ll start with defining “continual.” Based on my Reader’s Digest education as a child, I learned that continual is not synonymous with continuous. The difference is that continuous means to repeat without interruption, while continual means to repeat as needed, so interruptions occur.
Alright, so why would God only sometimes have my walls before him?
Because they are only there some of the time.
Phase One: Tearing Down Walls
The more I thought about it, the more I envisioned these prison walls I build for myself. This cyclical process begins with the thought, “I’m tired of feeling trapped, so I’m going to do something proactive about it.”
So I load up on hope, clarity, and inspirational thoughts. With those power tools, I tear down a wall. I feel God’s love so much more fully–His love for me, His love for all my brothers and sisters on this planet, in fact, this entire planet could fit in the hug I feel when I’ve broken down these barriers.
The next part in Sister Jones’s talk illustrates this place I’m in: “Believing that you, and everyone you know, is a child of God can be a source of inner strength. As you accept this truth and let it guide your life, you will find greater peace and become an example of good for others.”
I exercise caution because I know that my bipolarity won’t ignore overdoing it. But I still think, “If this is what You feel for us in just the tiniest degree, may I please, please, please feel this way all the time? I promise I won’t overdo it.”
Phase Two: Remembering Fear
But then comes the flipside of breaking down a wall: vulnerability.
I forgot the naysayers. I forgot how well criticism can find its mark. I forget that my little survival brain is the biggest culprit in this attack.
I begin to doubt. I falter. I flail. I lash out.
And then I plummet.
When I finally hit my current low, I want to stay there. It’s safe. I can’t fall if I haven’t moved upward.
So I curl up in my little cell and try to forget about the Elissa who thought she could amount to something or prove useful.
I went through this process last Sunday. My prison cell was my darkened closet. A rectangle of light shone around my door when I reluctantly lifted my eyes after an hour of ugly crying. I knew something good lay beyond it. I knew it was light. But I couldn’t think of how to get to a place I didn’t belong to.
My husband continually checked on me, assessed where I was at in case I wasn’t safe or in case a simple change–like food or a nap–could realign me with reality. I refused all such offers.
Phase Three: The Rescue
He and my sister helped me at least consider leaving my dungeon so we could go hiking. I wanted to let the earth swallow me up. A place with long drops and crashing waterfalls sounded appealing, but that would take effort. I wanted to stay on the floor where I couldn’t fall any further. My husband put his hand out in the darkness and offered to help me up.
And then he waited some more.
In my mind, I dared him to turn around with a huff and storm out. I wanted him to give up on me so I could know I was right, that I wasn’t worth helping. Then I could stay safe in my smallness.
But I saw how steady his hand was. I saw how patient. So before I could dismiss what I saw with some new interpretation, I reached out and let him raise me up.
Then I stepped back into the light.
Phase Four: Building Trust instead of Walls
Depending on how well I and my loved ones respond to this sudden drop, the result is anywhere from a “did anyone else feel that?” to a Magnitude 9.0 Dearthquake (I made that word up because it’s late and I think I’m funny).
And then I find a way to move forward and recognize again that I can always trust the Lord. And I can keep building my trust in myself, even when I seem to give up.*
So what does it mean that my walls are continually before my Savior? I think it means that he isn’t always holding my hand. It means that he trusts me to make choices, to encounter adversity, and to learn how to recover. He knows me. He knows what I am capable of, and he knows the process that I need to go through–no matter how many times I need to repeat it–to create the kind of self and world that He has in mind for me.
As I think about today being Palm Sunday, I think not only of the palm fronds, but like President Russell M. Nelson points out in this video, I think of the palms of Christ’s hands bearing proof of what He did for me. As he reaches toward my walls, his palms say, “You can trust me. I was there for you then, and I am here for you now.”
I fear being completely known by someone. I think most people do. We all cast up walls, and even as we tear down one, we may be fortifying another. Sometimes that is necessary. We don’t need to make ourselves known to everyone all at once. That’s what blogs are for.
But I trust God, so again and again I will take His hand when I have cast up a new prison. I am NOT better off alone. Christ suffered alone as only He could so that I have someone to raise me up, no matter what.
*I listened to music from my childhood all weekend. This one will probably make my twin sister sick to her stomach. Am I right?