Leaning Into the Wind
Two years ago at 5:00 pm on Easter Sunday nature gave birth to a super cell thunderstorm just west of our small Texas town. This is a fairly typical occurrence on hot and humid spring days for those of us living in tornado alley. In response to the storm the National Weather Service broadcasted a severe storm warning and tornado watch for our region.
Out of necessity anyone who lives in this area has a heightened awareness of the weather and the patterns it follows during the dynamic springtime. My husband and I have become avid storm watchers in the years we have lived here. The beauty and sheer power of these storms is exhilarating to behold.
The kids were hurried into the storm shelter and then my hubby and I stood on the front porch and watched a low and menacing wall cloud roll towards our community. Suddenly, the road in front of our house filled with a rushing caravan of professional storm chasers in armored vehicles and trucks equipped with radar equipment.
This was not a good sign. Storm chasers do their best to stay directly ahead of violent thunderstorms.
It was impossible to tear my eyes away from the purple fortress of cloud-bank coming towards us and the heavy air clung to me like the oppressive embrace of a least favorite Aunt. On the lower left side of the cloud formation a small hook dropped down and made its way slowly towards the ground.
Even with all of my knowledge on the subject and the carefully planned preparations to keep everyone safe, I realized in that moment that both of those things had only given me the illusion of control over my world. The truth was that we were vulnerable. My life and those of my family were in God’s hands.
There are many moments in our frail existence where the uncomfortable truth that we are absolutely dependent on God is brought to the forefront of our attention. At the death of a loved one, with an illness or accident, betrayal by a trusted friend or associate, intense periods of service and learning such as during a mission, with the birth of child, and in many other day-to-day circumstances of life we are reminded that we are not in control. These situations produce strong emotions, and as a result, can be uncomfortable.
There are two paths of response to these types of situations. The first is a route I’ve traveled many times. I fight the feelings and do everything possible to stamp them out because the idea of vulnerability equates in my mind with suffering. Preparation and knowledge are the armor I wrap myself in to ward off this discomfort and when hurt does come I do my darndest to numb the suffering that follows. It is pushed away and buried. I protect myself by limiting my trust in people and in God. I don’t allow myself to love as deeply because it permits the possibility of heartache. It is the road to a stony heart.
The second pathway is described by Brené Brown who is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying emotional vulnerability. In a TED Talk given in 2010 she gave a groundbreaking speech in which she detailed some of the conclusions of her research.
What she found was that humans are neuro-biologically wired to feel connected to others. Deep emotional connection with others is absolutely essential for humans to grow and find happiness in life. These connections produce a strong sense of love and belonging and are the motivation for almost all of our relationships in one way or another. As Latter-Day Saints we know that these connections are not only necessary between people but that we also need that same connection with God.
The only difference found in Dr. Brown’s investigation between people who had deep connections with others and those who were struggling was that the first group believed they were worthy. They knew their worth and allowed themselves to be vulnerable. They fully embraced it. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
They also acknowledged that this state of mind is not comfortable but worth the sacrifice. They talked about the necessity of being willing to say I love you first, to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to be patient, the willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They accept not being able to control everything. They lean into the disquiet of life’s storms even when they had been hurt in the past.
In part what Dr. Brown describes is what members of the Church call having a “soft heart”. These are traits that are embodied by the Savior. He loves fully, he works with the same intensity for all of God’s children regardless of how it will turn out, he patiently endures those who hate him and try to destroy his work. He allows others to lie to him and betray him and he weeps bitterly over their actions. He lets himself hurt and to cry. His bowels are filled with compassion. He feels intense joy. In all of it he does not push the discomfort away. By his example we come to understand that a soft heart is the birthplace of creativity, beauty, and love, as well as pain and discomfort.
The truly amazing realization in all of this is that when you choose the path of avoiding experiences and feelings you cannot selectively numb emotion. When you choose to numb fear, pain, and anger you also numb all the other emotions and end up numbing joy, gratitude, and happiness as well. When we do that we become hard hearted and miserable. We miss the connections we are here to create, with our fellow men and God.
To fully experience life requires courage and trust in God. The word courage comes from the Latin base coeur and means to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. We must be willing to let go of our false outward persona in order to be who we truly are, a beautiful son or daughter of God willing to embrace the pain and joy of life.
This courage and trust comes from doing the work necessary to find out who we are and the character of God. That is accomplished by simply following the commandments, living the Gospel, studying, and asking for the answer in faith every day. As we do these things it will become manifest that the Lord loves us, that he keeps his promises, and that he will give us the power to move through any experience that comes. With his help we can withstand the storms and allow them to soften our hearts, this in turn will bring us closer to him. Then we can wholly experience hurt and happiness and allow those experiences to transform us into a new being. We can lean into the wind instead of running from it.
Thankfully, the storm that came to our house on Easter of that year passed overhead without doing any significant damage and I was thankful for the realization it brought me, that it is alright to be vulnerable. It taught me that our dependence on God is one of the most important things we are here to learn. That even though God may allow us to be temporarily wounded in this life, when we follow in the footsteps of the Savior He will strengthen us and bring us through the storm, and in the process teach us the way to have a fullness of joy in the eternities.
Then we can be like the Lamanite converts that Ammon and his brethren rejoiced over in Alma 26:6-7.
“Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them. But behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his; and he will raise them up at the last day.”
The storms won’t always pass us by, it is guaranteed that at times we will be hit full force but we can be safe. We will not be driven because we are in the hands of the Lord, which is in reality the only safe place to be. Soft hearts and his support will make all the difference as we lean into the wind.
Why is pain a necessary teacher?
How have you found the courage to engage the emotions that come with life’s experiences?