Monday, March 7, 2016

The Parable of the Tiny X

I enjoy cross stitching.  Sort of.  Actually, I enjoy the end result of cross stitching.  Sometimes I enjoy the process.  I certainly enjoy picking out the patterns, the fabrics, the threads.  And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of hanging a beautifully framed, completed piece on the wall for all to enjoy.  But in between all the fun stuff, there is the pesky problem of the actual stitching.

It’s not difficult.  In fact, it’s really quite easy.  Needle up, needle down, needle up, needle down, and a tiny little x is created.  Repeat.  A lot.  And there you go.  Project complete. 

It is the repeat a lot part that tends to get me down.  Sometimes it’s soothing.  Sometimes it makes me feel more centered to focus my efforts on this gentle art.  Until I have to unpick some misplaced stitches.  Or until I get bored.  Sometimes the piece I’m working on takes so long to finish that the promise of the finished piece is not enough of a motivator for me to keep going.  Then I put it away, sometimes for years.  Every once in a great while I’ll pull out my unfinished projects and see what I have started to create.  I recall the vision of what I had intended when I began such a project, and I begin again.

 I’m in the more positive part of the cross stitch cycle.  I found some patterns that I loved, and they were small enough to keep the motivation high, so I’ve actually completed them.  As I sat stitching these projects making tiny x after tiny x after tiny x, the similarities to building a testimony snuck into my consciousness. 

On its own, a tiny x is insignificant.  But in a completed project, every tiny x is important.  Every tiny x works to create a beautiful piece of art.  A larger x randomly placed in the pattern will never accomplish the same effect as repeating the tiny x’s over and over and over.

In building a testimony, every small spiritual act is important.  Every prayer adds to it.  Every verse of scripture that is pondered and internalized adds to it.  Just as a larger x in cross stitch cannot compensate for dozens of tiny x’s, in building a testimony, great but inconsistent efforts will never produce the same result as days, weeks, and months of consistently praying, studying, and serving, even if the number of pages read or the number of hours in prayer is less than the great and mighty effort. 

As my daughters have entered the Young Women program, I have taken the opportunity to work on Personal Progress goals with them.  A few years ago I completed the first value experience for faith, and wrote about it here and here.  Somehow, I was unsatisfied with it, and decided recently to try again.  This time, I made myself pray every morning and night, regardless of how tired I was.  When I missed morning prayers because of my five little distractions running around, I knelt down as soon as I remembered.  I changed my habits.  The quality of my prayers was not always stellar.  Sometimes it felt a little like I was just going through the motions, but I was sincerely trying to make a positive change, and most of my prayers were very heartfelt.  I also prayed more during the day, at times when I was struggling.  And I noticed a difference.  I noticed that my previous experience of less frequent, more “perfect” prayers was not as spiritually refining as less perfect prayers with more focused frequency.  I discovered what the purpose of that value experience was—to actually develop faith, and to USE that faith as a power to change my life.  That kind of faith didn’t—couldn’t—come with random grand efforts (although I know that God hears and answers EVERY prayer).  There was a very real power in making more consistent, albeit imperfect, efforts. 

We are living in a time when we NEED the very real protection that comes from personal spiritual habits.  The more consistent our efforts, the greater the power and protection these habits can provide, even if our efforts are less than perfect. 

I have a lot of links throughout the blog leading to other blogs with articles that I’ve really enjoyed and that have changed my perspective.  Here’s one more. 
And a follow-up article by the same author:

I love that there are so many people increasing their spiritual learning and their capacity to follow the promptings of the Spirit.  We are here to learn from each other and to help each other.  I hope my small insights are enough to give someone hope.  The Lord knows and loves YOU!  As I was reminded yesterday in our stake conference, “Keep going.  You’re doing better than you think you are!”