Once upon a time I was young, full of hope and joy. I had these crazy ideas of what life was all about, how the universe worked, how life worked. I watched stupid cartoons, read princess fantasies, and dreamed of finding true love.
Then I woke up.
At 23 years old my life was ripped out from underneath me. I was starting over, further behind then I was at my naive 19 year old self. Starting over with nothing but the hard lessons learned from the fall. In the midst of my fall I wrote one simple line about it on Facebook. It was a pretty good summary about what I had learned. I wrote: “I once believed that love was the most powerful force in the universe, but now I know it’s the ability to choose” or something like that.
I thought a lot about that idea. Before my fall, I believed that love was supreme as a force in the universe. Love was what it was all about. I had read all the adventures where the curse was broken by true love. I had watched the movies where the villain should have won, but true love saved the day. True love is what we all were supposed to search and look for. True love is the most intense and strong thing that can overcome all hardships, overcome all doubts, overcome even the darkest and evil things of the world.
And then it was gone. I fell. It was a long hard humiliating fall.
In the middle of my recovery from the fall, I realized that it wasn’t love’s fault. Love didn’t do this, love didn’t suddenly lie. In fact, love couldn’t do anything at all. Love was just an emotion. Sure it was a really strong one, but love couldn’t do anything but affect how people feel. The real power house was choice. Love could give you that crazy intense feeling, but choice is what you did with that feeling. Choice is what you make of it. Choice is what lifts us up or tears us down.
As soon as I recognized and accepted this truth, I was able to make more of my new life. Sure, I was living at my parents’ house. Sure, I was working at a low paying job, below my education. Sure, I had to live with some real heavy consequences for my past life, but I knew that I could change it. I could change how I viewed it, I could change what I made of it, I could change my life just by choosing to do so.
Three months after having Princess Pea, she had a rough night. I did everything I could think of, but I couldn’t get her to go to sleep. I rocked, I cuddled, I sang, I shushed, I even stroked her nose, but every single time I would put her in her bed and walk away, she would wake up and cry. It was late, I had something going on the next morning. I just walked away and took a shower.
I cried in the shower as I listened to my newborn cry. I prayed begging Heavenly Father to help me know what I was doing wrong. It was in that moment that I realized, just because Pea was an infant didn’t mean that she didn’t have choices too. Pea’s refusal to sleep wasn’t a reflection of my parenting skills, it was simply her making a choice and I needed to accept that.
There have been many, many times since this one that I have battled with issues with Pea and wondered if it was my parenting or her choices. Whenever it was my parenting, I adjusted and tried something else. When it was her choices, I backed off and let her make them and let her learn from the consequences of her choices.
There have been many times when I have prayed and begged Heavenly Father to make something happen or keep something else from happening. In each of those situations, I was reminded that you can’t pray away someone else’s free will.
As I have studied human development and the theories encompassed in it, the more I am certain that cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development are all driven by one thing, our ability and need to make choices. This one simple thing is what separates us from animals.
Yes I know that animals make choices too. You see those specials of dogs and cats saving lives and so on. But if you really think about it, animals’ choices are limited. The majority of animals act on instinct and the drive for survival. Humans’ choices tend to be a little more complex than instinct and survival. We look to make choices that will make us happy. We make choices that will get us where we want to be. We can look to what our potential consequences are and then choose based on what outcome we want. I don’t believe that animals look at things the same way.
Shortly after my brother got home from Brazil, we were sitting in the car talking one Sunday afternoon. He had just attended the single’s ward with me and was talking to me about choices and consequences. He used this analogy:
“I don’t like doing dishes. Dishes are not something I enjoy. But I like it when Mom is happy. My life is easier when Mom is happy. I know that I want her to be happy. The best way to make this happen is to do the dishes. Because the end consequence is something that I want, in turn, I want to do the dishes.”
This isn’t something ground breaking or new. This is just something we tend to overlook a lot. We usually only apply this model to big things: I want to be a scientist so I will major in a chemistry, biology, geology, environmental science, or some other science. Sometimes we’re smart enough to use it for who we build relationships with: I don’t want to be with someone who is addicted to anything so I won’t date anyone I meet at a bar or casino. This model can be applied to the relationships we already have: I’d rather sit on the couch and watch cartoons all day, but I want my child to be athletic, so we’ll go outside and kick the soccer ball around for a while.”
We can tap into this power. We have the ability to make our dreams come true if we work at it. The ability to make choices is amazing. Unfortunately, there is a huge downside to all of this: everyone has this power. Everyone can make choices and often their choices will affect us.
There are countless children hurt by the choices of their parents. There are endless parents hurt by the choices of their children. There are spouses hurt by the actions of their spouse. There are endless people hurt by the choices of other people. It doesn’t matter your relationship with the other person, if you exist, you will be damaged by someone else’s choices.
Here is the light at the end of that dark statement: we can choose what we do with it.
When my life was taken away from me, it wasn’t my choice. Yes, I made choices that led up to that moment, but ultimately the choice that ended it was not mine. I remember after that moment sitting in my bishop’s office talking to him about my situation. I’ll never forget what he said.
“You can be mad. You have every right to be mad. You can be mad at the church, at your family, at all people everywhere. That is your right, but life will be much better and easier if you choose to be happy, if you choose to look at the positive, if you choose to let go of your anger.”
At this point I had already moved passed any emotions of anger, but his words meant a lot nonetheless. We cannot choose to not be affected by others’ choices, but we can choose how we react. We don’t have to rise up in anger and hellfire bent on destruction of everyone and everything. We don’t have to wallow in self-pity of the injustice that occurred. We can choose our action. It is easy to let our emotions take over and give us temporary relief, but if we choose restraint and a better reaction, the situation will resolve in a much better way.
To quote Thomas S. Monson “Choose the harder right, rather than the easier wrong.”