Looking back on the past year, I marvel at the magic of it all! What great blessings have come; what great miracles have occurred. It all seemed so impossible and yet, one day at a time it unfolded in the most marvelous fashion. I do not deserve such blessings, but I sure do enjoy them. I would be terribly remiss if I were not to acknowledge them. Too numerous to list; I'll not record them now. I've tried to do that as I went along.
As I mentioned, I've tried to live my life one day at a time. Oh, the blessed gift of a day! Every morning the sun rises for me, I am presented with a day full of opportunity and potential. Have I used them all to the fullest? Of course not. Have I done the best I could? Pretty close. Have I accomplished everything I had hoped? Not nearly. Does that discourage me? Not any more.
I think that is the greatest lesson I've learned this year. The discovery that there are hundreds of desires I have that I'll have to sacrifice in order to enjoy the most important things, has been huge for me. Choosing the most important things has made all the difference in this past year. I suspect that my life will always be replete with opportunities in such abundance that I cannot possibly experience or enjoy them all. I have long held that for me the biggest decisions are not between right and wrong so much as between better and best.
This past few months have brought great challenges in that regard as well as great revelations. I currently have a lot on my plate. I facilitate two 12 Step groups at the Detention Center and one for alumni of that facility. Those tie up my Monday and Tuesday evenings. I am High Priests Group Leader in my Ward. We meet Wednesday evenings and, of course, on Sunday. I have a calling to clean the Temple every Wednesday night from 10 to 12. I go Home Teaching every Thursday evening with a very dear, physically handicapped, friend and companion. Friday night is the 12 Step meeting that keeps me on the sober side of life. Additionally, I have a calling to coordinate the advancement process of each potential Eagle Scout in my Stake; taking them from Eagle project approval, to their Board of Review. Each of these opportunities is a great blessing to me. A blessing I cherish.
Now, when you couple all of those opportunities with other important family, career, neighborhood, community and fraternal stewardships you begin to see that my life is full, busy and rewarding. There was a time when all of this would have been completely overwhelming. Interestingly, it is becoming less and less so. That fact is fascinating to me and caused me to stop a moment and consider it here.
I am a people pleaser. I love to make folks happy. The consequence of that has been very damaging in my life. In a world full of manipulators, I found myself marching to the beat of a cacophony of drums. That noisome effort very nearly destroyed me. Of all the blessings that have come from working the 12 Steps created by Alcoholics Anonymous and adopted by the LDS Addiction Recovery Program; perhaps the greatest is this: In turning my life over to the care and keeping of God, I can allow Him to set my priorities.
Each morning, first thing, I spend an hour with God. I study the scriptures, write in my journal and spend time on my knees. Additionally, I then immediately follow that with an hour walk. That is a great deal of time in a busy schedule like mine; but it is essential time. During that time I try to let God set my priorities for the day. Most days it is easy. Some days, I really have to struggle to discover His will. I don't think the struggle is ever with Him; but rather with myself. The struggle is whether or not I am willing to do His will.
Now, there are a number of distractions from that focus. Most of those come in the form of conflicting wills. There are a number of people in my life who would gladly set my priorities for me. Having their own agendas they are wont to influence mine to their own advantage. These people are manipulators. Some of their objectives are benign and innocuous and others are down right malignant. The malignant ones are quite easy to dismiss, the others sometimes require a good deal of prayer.
Having been highly manipulated most of my life; and having caused my self great harm by allowing myself to be manipulated; and discovering that the lion's share of my recovery is contingent upon appropriate management of my manipulators, I have had to really focus on letting God manage my priorities. Let me give you an example:
I have a supervisor in my calling as High Priests Group Leader. He is a man I greatly admire. He is very nearly the finest teacher I have ever encountered. One of the great desires of my heart is to emulate his teaching power and skill. This man also has a very imposing presence and so I consider him with a good deal of awe. As he is a hero of mine, it is the most natural thing in the world to try to impress him.
As part of the training he has given me, I was informed of the need to provide him with a monthly report on a few facets of the performance of my High Priest's group. I failed to submit that form in a timely manner and he called to remind me that it was late. I scrambled for an excuse which resulted in a lie. I have not confessed my prevarication to him yet, but I must. That of course, will add to my discomfort, but if I am to continue on the road to recovery, there is no other option for me. It is not enough to confess my dishonesty though. For the process of confessing to be effective, I also need to understand my motivation for lying and to discover the best alternative to the wrong choice I made.
First of all, I lied in order to keep myself in my supervisor's good graces, despite my noncompliance with his wishes. That is the most common motivation for lying is it not? It certainly is mine. Having grown up in a highly manipulative environment, I learned quickly to fight fire with fire. Lying too, is manipulation you see. Having learned that dishonest management tool from my youth, it has become a habit - a bad one. The only way I'll ever overcome that tendency is to confess it each time I do it. I hope eventually, that will make it so that dishonesty is not my automatic response to every sticky situation.
Here's how I've resolved to deal with this particular sticky wicket; or what I should have said, and soon will have to say:
I'm sorry Brother So-And-So, I was dishonest in my response to your query about the report. In seeking an excuse for my tardiness I lied to you. I am ashamed of myself, apologize, and hope you can forgive me. To make things right, I need to be honest about my failure to produce your report. The truth is, your report just didn't make it far enough up my priority list. I suspect this will dismay you but that is the fact. I have a lot on my plate and so far there are too many, more important, things queued up in front of your report. I expect you will direct me to give it more priority, but you don't get to set my priorities for me, that is something I must do myself, under the direction of my Father in Heaven. Every day there are dozens of things I would like to do that don't make it on my list for that day. So far your report has been one of them.
Now, Brother So-And-So, the lack of priority I have assigned to your report has not been just an arbitrary decision. I have carefully considered each item on my priority list. I consider your report to be of low priority because I have judged it to be of little value to me and to my mission. Obviously, you consider it to be of value to your mission, but I am called to magnify my own calling, not yours.
Now, I have considered the mandate to "return and report." For the short term, that alone is adequate reason to diminish the import of your report. As I have yet to go, I am clearly, unable to return. For the long term, I am not persuaded that the report is of any constructive value. In fact my analysis shows it to be a manipulative tool, which by its very nature I must resist for the sake of my continued sobriety. I suspect this will offend you, so let me explain.
I can think of three possible reasons you would expect this task in addition to the regular quarterly report I will provide as outlined in the handbook. One might be that you are an individual who likes to be in control and who desires to micro-manage my stewardship. A second possibility is that you want me to take the time to analyze my own performance every month hoping that seeing my short comings on paper, I'll feel guilty enough to try harder next month. Or, thirdly, you are just too impatient to wait three months between reports. In each case, I consider the report to serve your needs and not my own or those of the group I lead, which therefore makes the report, by definition, manipulative.
Now, that being said, a clear part of my therapy is to handle manipulation appropriately. That is to say that I must condemn the practice but not the practitioner. I bear you no malice in your effort to manipulate me. In point of fact, I invite you to persuade me that you are not; though you need to know that such persuasion may require a good deal of patience, long suffering and unfeigned love supported by a distinct lack of guile.
I also hold myself responsible to do the right thing, regardless of whether or not someone is using manipulation to get me to do it. In this particular case I do not consider reports to be the wrong thing by any means. I just don't consider yours to be productive because if focuses on what we have not done, instead of what we have. It appears that the motivation then is to shame us into doing better next time. Shame is a major condition of addiction. The sting of shame makes a great lash, but no one wants to be very close to the wielder. Shame is of the evil one. The Savior is not in the condemnation business, but rather the invitation business. I perceive no tone of "Come (out of shame and) Follow Me" in this report. Therefore, I have yet to be persuaded that this report is important enough to supersede a number of things God seems to consider to be more important.
Elder Maxwell once analyzed different styles of Leadership and offered a few paragraphs on manipulative leadership. He was able to point out a few advantages to that approach, but to my mind the disadvantages he cited far out weighed the advantages. I will not be leading my group with manipulation. I will not be giving orders and compelling compliance. To my mind, manipulative leadership is not leadership at all, it is merely management. I have a strong aversion to what is commonly called MBO, management by objective. In every case I have examined MBO is highly manipulative because objectives - goals, are imposed upon subordinates in this model. I will be setting my own goals, thank you. I will be assisting the members of my group to set their own as well. I will be asking for sacrifice and inviting my brethren to make and keep commitments, but those commitments will not be imposed upon them. When I conduct interviews with them I will be focusing on them, their needs, their desires and hope to facilitate their hopes and dreams, not my own. I will not be expecting them to magnify my calling. I will be teaching them correct principles and I will allow them to govern themselves. These are fine men. Men of honor and integrity. They have every intention of building the Kingdom. My role is to assist them in accomplishing their task, not to brow beat them into compliance with my own wishes, or my own objectives, or yours. If I am truly an instrument in the Lord's hands they will hear is voice in my invitation to come follow me. Hearing that voice, I am confident they will respond. The sheep need a shepherd, not a sheep herder. The sheep you've entrusted me with have already proven they will follow. If I am driving them from behind, how can they follow? Who can they follow? If they require a leader, let me lead.
The fact that one who supervises me expects a report such as yours implies that he has set objectives for me, rather than allowing me, in concert with my Heavenly Father to establish my own. Well did Lehi say that men were meant to act and not be acted upon. Please rest assured that I intend to act. I will hold myself accountable. I will continually consult with God and seek His favor. I am utterly dependent upon Him for the very breath I breathe. I am utterly unable to accomplish the great task before me without His grace and good pleasure. I will do His will to the best of my ability. I invite you to teach me correct principles and I expect you to let me govern myself. Please do not be offended if my perception of God's will does not include your little report this month. Next month? Well, we shall see.