When I was 19 years old, I started a two year adventure as a missionary, going to serve the people in the great cities of Brooklyn and Queens, New York. This was my first time away from home and family. Needless to say, this was a huge period of growth for me as a person. Today I'd like to share one lesson of many that I learned from that period of my life.
Before arriving in New York, I spent two and a half months in Provo, Utah where I received training, studied American sign language, and read from the scriptures. My time was filled with classes, devotionals, personal study, practice teaching, serving, and daily exercise. I was with a group of 8 others going across the United States, who were also assigned to learn sign. Most of our day was spent with one another. I started to get really comfortable with the routine, with the people around me, just the lifestyle in general.
That comfort was pulled out from under me one Sunday.
Prior to our church services that day, we had some sort of leadership training that I was to attend. It was in a smaller classroom, probably 7 or 8 other missionaries were in attendance. I settled into my desk and waited for our teacher to begin. He turned to us, scanning over us, addressed me and said,
"Come up and provide us with the lesson."
That nervous sweat you get when all the attention is suddenly put on you began and I responded,
"Oh, I wasn't given the lesson to teach."
He had moved to an empty desk, and as he sat, he looked at me,
"I don't care. You can see what the topic is. Teach us."
I grabbed my books and headed to the front of the class. I stood there, red faced, sweating, my frenzied mind unable to locate a point to start on. I stammered, trying to find something, drowning in my words, flipping through pages of my scriptures and manual. After what felt like minutes of this uncomfortable, embarrassing display, the teacher chimed in,
"You don't need those."
He closed both books and slid them to the end of the desk in front of me. Surprised, and thinking he was kidding for some reason, I stepped toward and reached for my books. He grabbed them and moved them to his own desk.
"You're using these as crutches. You don't need them."
I was astounded. The things that bad dreams are made of were materializing right in front of me (thankfully, I was still fully clothed). I knew the topic, but didn't know it well enough to teach it. I had a question come to my mind, so I asked it. A pair of people started sharing their answers and as I listened, another question came to mind. The discussion snowballed, and we ended up having a great lesson with one another. I wasn't struck with an entire lesson plan, but that one question, was a tiny step in the right direction that got us where we needed to go.
The phrase, "You're using these as crutches," not only served me well in that classroom that day, but served me as I lived in New York and even to this day will come up when needed. The fact is, you and I probably use crutches in our life more than we'd like to admit.
Take it from someone who has had enough sprained/broken ankles to know the value of crutches. They are a great tool to allow mobility when it would be difficult without them. However, using them constantly would weaken one of your legs (and if I can be totally candid, give you sore and bloody armpits, and some nice blisters). Crutches can be a number of things, a job, a negative habit, a limited ideal. The thing about them is they don't have to be negative influences. Sometimes you have to get into a job, or stay in a job, because you have bills, rent, etc. Sometimes a habit that you've developed preserves your sanity. Sometimes you believe something in your life because if you didn't you'd crash down in a deep depression. Crutches may be helpful in some of these situations.
In the above TED Talk, Amy Purdy shares her journey where she had to overcome multiple physical and mental crutches to go on and do great things. No one would have blamed Amy if she had, through "practicality", deduced that there were things that she couldn't do anymore. If she had lowered the ceiling on the potential that she had in life, no one would have thought twice about it. I love her line,
"Our borders, our obstacles can only do two things - 1) Stop us in our tracks or 2) force us to get creative."
Amy got creative and designed equipment that would allow her to continue on with her passion of snowboarding. She showed extraordinary willpower and strength to overcome her physical obstacles. She helps me realize that no matter what, there is a solution to whatever problems that we face in our lives.
My call to myself and to anyone who this message has struck a chord - do three things:
1) Examine, deeply and honestly, what crutches are keeping you from thriving.
2) Ponder creative ways to eliminate that crutch from your life.
3) Act. Do something, no matter how small, to move yourself in that direction.
It can be a difficult, uncomfortable, embarrassing process, but I can promise, through experience, that small acts begin the passage to the biggest changes.
My name is Brian and I have a voice and something valuable to say. I'm on a quest to discover myself and the world around me. Join me and together we can do good in the world.